Building the Brand: The History of Versace

Growing up in Reggio Calabria, Gianni Versace spent his early years working for his mother, who owned a local sewing business. This is where Versace fell in love with fashion. Gianni made his first dress – a blue one-shoulder evening gown – at the age of nine. Princess Diana wore a version of that creation some 40 years later.

When he turned 26 he moved to Milan to work in fashion design, and in 1973 he became the designer of “Byblos”, a youthful line for Genny. It wasn’t until 1978 that he would have his own boutique in Milan’s Via della Spiga, the main shopping street in Milan.

Over the next decade, Versace exploded onto the scene. Gianni did a couple of things that revolutionized the fashion industry. From lace and leather to metal studs and Swarovski crystals, he was one of the first people to use multiple elements in the same dress (something very uncommon at the time). 

When it came to marketing his product he was nothing short of genius. He was the first designer to take his runway shows to other major markets such as Paris and New York. Along with his keen eye for design, he had a keen eye for advertising. He stressed the importance of only using supermodels and high-level photographers to make his campaigns stand out above the rest.

Versace also recognized the brand clout he would receive if celebrities were outfitted by him. He made clothes for Elton John, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, and countless other celebrities. Recently Jennifer Lopez wore a recreation of the famous green dress she wore in 2000, at this year’s New York Fashion Week show, 19 years later. 

In 1992, Versace moved to Miami, where he fell in love with and purchased a gorgeous villa in South Beach called The Villa Casa Casuarina, as well as the lot next door. After more than $30 million in renovations, the iconic Versace Mansion was established., creating the Versace Mansion where he lived until he passed in 1997. Versace passed in 1997 when a crazed fan, Andrew Cunanan, shot him on his doorstep.

After his tragic death, his sister Donatella took over as creative director and continued to push the company forward. Today, over 1500 boutiques are open worldwide and the company’s outstanding shares were purchased by Michael Kors in 2018 for $2.12 billion, keeping Donatella on as their lead creative.

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