Versace, Versace, Versace. The Italian fashion brand and family name has recently had a resurgence in contemporary culture that’s given it a spotlight like no other. On the one hand, it’s a beloved icon of 80s and 90s hedonism, flamboyance and sexual liberation. On the other, it’s a fashion business that has failed in recent years to match the grandeur of its own imaginations.
Until recently, that is – with its sale to Michael Kors’ holding company, Capri Holdings, in September 2018. The deal was a surprise to many, and caused an uneducated panic that the Italian house of opulence would go the way of mainstream mediocrity. An unfounded one, given that Donatella Versace continues to head the brand as Vice-President and Creative Director.
The most powerful recent memory of the brand is undoubtedly its Spring/Summer 2018 women’s runway show. Donatella Versace, in that collection, invoked the best of the brand’s history in tribute to her brother Gianni on the 20th anniversary of his death. And, of course, closed the show walking hand-in-hand with five of the 90s’ supermodels that Versace had a crucial hand in making stars of. It was emotional, it sold, and then like everything else in fashion, it was quickly out of season and a thing of the past.
So, what now? With its Fall/Winter 2019 men’s show in Milan, Versace seemed to be signaling that not much has changed. Perhaps it’s an ease into its new position under American ownership, or a show of faith and promise by Kors that the Italian brand would not be unnecessarily tampered with. It’s both good and bad: good because Capri would do well to note that the Versace brand has a stronger cultural currency than Michael Kors, and bad because Versace is in need of some evolution.
Donatella cited an exploration of the modern man as the driver behind this collection. An idea of today’s man who breaks boundaries by challenging notions and stereotypes. You got the sense of this in the design touches that referenced gay culture. Marabou-lined suit jackets, silk boxer shorts, activist pin badges, and neon and citrus brights.
I might chafe at this subdued expression of modernity, but sometimes I have to admit that menswear evolves at a pace much slower, and that the designers who can truly reinvent and push men’s fashion are rare and in between. For its part, this Versace collection continued a proponent stance of the deconstruction of tailoring tropes. Mostly by fusing in details like the elastic waistband of boxer shorts into trousers, kink by way of leather harness trompe-l'œil, and breaking up suit silhouettes with streetwear elements. The little crossbody bags were a nice touch too.
The greatest irony and tension with this show, however, were the women who stole the show. That same vocabulary was translated into women’s looks and they were so much the stronger than the men’s. When Imaan Hammam stormed out in a men’s blazer over a pink silk blouse tucked into boxer shorts, I got the sense that all this exploration in a modern male style in the end translated best for women. Funny that in a men’s collection, such compelling fashion for women turned up. The sexual power, sensuality and charge that the women had gave me a solid reminder of Versace’s importance to women first and foremost. The menswear was good and the boys statuesque, but don’t you forget that this is still the house of the Medusa.