Donatella Versace Finds Strength in Failure

Originally Published: 

Donatella Versace wears her own clothing  and jewelry. Retouching: Dreamer Post.
Donatella Versace wears her own clothing and jewelry. Retouching: Dreamer Post.

For our annual “The Originals” issue, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, design, fashion, comedy, activism, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. Read all of this year’s interviews here.

Looking back at your career, what do you consider some of the biggest barriers you have broken as a fashion designer?

To be honest, I do not think there were many fashion barriers left after my brother Gianni. If anything, I am still trying to inspire confidence in men and women through my collections. We live in a moment in which the barriers we need to overcome are discrimination, hate against race or sexual orientation, body shaming.

What does originality mean to you?

Being unapologetic to yourself.

Do you have a style icon?

If I have to select a single person, out of the ones I’ve been lucky enough to meet in my life, I would choose Prince! He understood the power of fashion, the power of one’s image, like no other. In many ways he reminded me of Gianni, because they both lived in a time when there were a lot of taboos and impermissible behaviors and views around fashion, and neither of them gave any importance to that. Prince was a “pure” artist in that sense. He did not allow others’ opinions to affect him or his fashion choices. All he cared about was his art, his music, and being himself. If that entailed wearing high heels and makeup, then so be it.

Who was the first person who made you realize you could break the rules?

I had to get to that conclusion by myself. I did not choose this career path; it was forced on me because of what happened to my brother. In many ways, I felt like I owed it to him, that I was supposed to continue what he started and celebrate his work and what he created. But no one believed I could actually do it. For many years, I felt like everyone was expecting me to fail. And I did fail! But today I know that failing is just part of the process, and the challenging part is making sure you pick yourself up. Every time I did, I felt stronger. Once I made peace with my past, I was able to find my own voice. That’s when I really started to do what I wanted. I brought back the iconic prints of Gianni in my own way, and created new ones. Today I can say that what you see on the runway is truly an expression of who I am.

What is the most unoriginal thing people ask you?

“How do you pronounce ‘Versace’?”

What inspires you about your children’s generation?

Their ability to comprehend technology, and to make it fun and so easy to use. Well, it’s also kind of unnerving. I mean, I love technology, but I am not very good at it. I try, but still... I feel the younger generations were born with a smartphone in their hands, and what they do with technology is amazing. Take virtual reality, AI, or special effects, for example. These have now become part of our daily reality in many ways. I also admire how so many have had the courage to use technology to amplify their voice and beliefs. They have made us stop and think about the impact we have in this world. I love how involved they are with their communities and how they have utilized different platforms to debate and educate the public on subjects like sustainability, diversity, and climate change. They understand that our communities and planet need to be nourished, because that’s the one they will inherit. It’s amazing, don’t you think?

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