22 dec 2015

BEST OF 2015: Donatella Versace and Anthony Vaccarello

Donatella Versace has been asking promising young designers to create collections for Versus since 2009. In 2014, it was the turn of Belgian designer Anthony Vaccarello. Numéro met up with the dynamic duo in New York.

During the last New York Fashion Week, the Versus show was among the most eagerly awaited: new artistic director Anthony Vaccarello was presenting his first collection for the line created in 1989 by Gianni Versace. Donatella Versace, ultra-blonde vice president of the Versace Group, decided to hand over Versus to the Belgian designer in 2013. The alliance seemed obvious: Vaccarello’s sensual style, with shades of Nordic discipline, made him an ideal candidate to give the Versus line a contemporary spin. And his inaugural collection pulls it off perfectly, with Vaccarello’s vision of the Versace woman revisited through his characteristic straight lines and sharp cuts. Balancing out the slits, plunging V-necks and ultra-short skirts that have become the designer’s signature, bermudas, menswear-inspired shorts and trousers underline his casual chic. Numéro caught up with Versace and Vaccarello to get the insider view on their collaboration.



Numéro: Donatella, you’ve been closely watching Anthony’s work since he graduated from La Cambre. What was the immediate appeal?


Donatella Versace: I was bowled over by his talent from his very first show. I immediately thought, “My God! This is so Versace!” But his vision is very fresh and new. His lines have a kind of clinical precision that counterbalances the overall sensuality of the piece. What I particularly love about him is that his style is very graphic. You can instantly understand the shape and the line. 


Anthony Vaccarello: Donatella and I are both speaking to self-assured, sensual women. My designs simply have a side that is more French, more nonchalant, that I have tried to bring to Versus. In my mind, the Versace woman is a warrior who wears her clothes like a weapon of seduction, whereas for me a woman takes control over what she wears, her personality always dominates. My collection for Versus is a synthesis of the legacy of this mythical line and my work under my own label. I love the idea that a woman can mix, in the same silhouette, pieces from Anthony Vaccarello and Versus. 



Supermodels from the 90s photographed by Richard Avedon in his iconic campaigns played an important role in building the Versus myth. Today’s top models see themselves in your collections, Anthony, first among them Anja Rubik, who is also your girlfriend. Is this an essential point in common between the Versus world and your own?


Anthony Vaccarello: Yes, it is. On my runways, the woman modelling the clothing is crucial, her beauty should be pure and not buried beneath some kind of disguise. The make-up at my shows is always really light. The model is individually selected and everything is done to highlight her particular energy and personality. 



Collections under Anthony’s own label are mainly presented in black and white, and this was the case for the first one with Versus. But the pop vibe of this line has always been linked to the use of colour. How did you resolve this issue together? 


Donatella Versace: I have always liked the fact that Anthony never uses colour, with the occasional exception of a fiery, almost electric red. This radical choice supports the graphic nature of his style. So we decided that Anthony’s inaugural Versus collection would only
be black. People often forget that the first Versus collection in 1989 was almost exclusively black. Anthony was fascinated to discover that when I showed it to him. 


Anthony Vaccarello: I wanted to begin this collection like a blank page, focusing on the line, and Donatella gave me total creative freedom. Incorporating a print, though, did seem indispensable to me. It was inspired by a scarf print that Gianni did in the 90s, crossed with a kind of comic-strip flair, as if borrowed from the famous sitcom Saved By The Bell – so taking me pretty far from my natural habitat. [Laughs.]



Anthony, our generation all grew up with Richard Avedon’s famous photos for Versus featuring stars dressed head to toe in Versace. Was the collection complete in your mind before you started sketching?


Anthony Vaccarello: I’m part of the MTV generation, and during the MTV and Grammy Awards, stars like Bon Jovi, Elton John and Prince wore Versace. These are the images that come to mind when I think of this label. From that point on, pop music was tightly linked to fashion. I was so steeped in these images that by the time I signed the contract, I already had 50 sketches ready to be realized. I needed to exorcise my memories of the 90s woman as portrayed in those mythic campaigns by Avedon and Bruce Weber.


Donatella Versace: It was astounding because the collection was already nearly finished before we even met! In July, everything was ready. It was perfect, because making the pieces available online as soon as the show is over means we have to move fast.



Did you nonetheless take a look at the archives, Anthony?


Anthony Vaccarello: Definitely, and it was a real pleasure. I discovered pieces by Gianni that I hadn’t seen before. It was very moving, because I saw that there were affinities between his style and mine.



How do you feel about showing in New York?


Anthony Vaccarello: Versus has always shown in New York. Paris is haute couture, where the rules are fairly established; Milan’s fashion week is commercial; New York embodies a kind of freshness and youth, neither of which are too tightly controlled. It’s the New York Fashion Week that is a natural fit with Versus.



Donatella, what made you take the visionary decision to sell the collection online right after the show?


Donatella Versace: Being faithful to its original spirit means Versus has to be wired to today’s digital world. To be able to have the whole collection delivered to your doorstep two days after it was shown is simply essential, and it’s absurd to have to wait. The buyer also has the feeling that she has acquired a part of the show, something iconic, emphasizing the festive side of Versus.



How do you set the respective limits of Versus and Versace?


Donatella Versace: Versus simply shows another side of the Versace woman, who can be alternately bourgeoise, audacious, cool or rock. I like to bring together different energies, like the collaboration between singer M.I.A. and Versus in 2013. She’s an incredible star, so creative. 



Whether it’s Lady Gaga or Jennifer Lopez, pop stars are still part of the Versace family today. Do you feel that you yourself have become a pop icon?


Donatella Versace: [Laughs shyly.] I don’t know what I represent to J.Lo or Lady Gaga. J.Lo is adorable, a real person with true talent. As for Lady Gaga, I found the intelligent way she built her universe to be incredibly intriguing. She approached me by saying I was her icon. To dress her, I opened up Gianni’s archives because anyone can dress a pop star these days, so we have to be a little more audacious. I really love working with these pop stars. And in any case, I could never do anything purely for marketing reasons.



Do you at least get the feeling that you embody this festive spirit that you often mention, which is in some way absent from fashion today


Donatella Versace: Fashion isn’t festive anymore because the executives don’t leave room for creativity. And yet, without the designers, they’re nothing.