Original supermodels assemble for catwalk tribute to Gianni Versace
Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen and Carla Bruni in Donatella Versace’s Milan show
Of everything Gianni Versace gave to popular culture – he invented the celebrity front row, the metal mesh cocktail dress and arguably the career of Elizabeth Hurley, who might never have found fame were it not for That Dress – the supermodel is his greatest legacy. So it was a fitting tribute that a supermodel reunion was the centrepiece of the Versace show staged to mark the 20th anniversary of his murder.
Versace invented the supermodel, plucking a few chosen models from the runway ranks and elevating them to a higher strata of glamour. Other models remained humble clothes horses, but this elite became goddesses. Versace, who was already conjuring the imagery of classical goddesses with his becomingly draped dresses, created the perfect women to wear them.
Donatella Versace, who took over as designer soon after her brother’s sudden death, presented a blockbuster tribute show that ended with five of the original supermodels – Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen and the former French first lady Carla Bruni – taking to the catwalk together, soundtracked by George Michael’s Freedom. The finale was designed to reenact one of Gianni Versace’s most iconic moments from 1991, when four supermodels walked arm in arm on the runway as George Michael sat in the front row.
As a power move at fashion week, it was sheer shock and awe. The original supers are still worshipped by the industry. But by putting five women in the spotlight on a night dedicated to her brother, Donatella Versace also ensured that the optics emphasised her brother’s “allegiance to women”.
At a press conference before the show Donatella Versace said that the catwalk rehearsal with the star models – whom she referred to as “icons”, rather than supermodels – had been the most emotional moment of the preparations.
“But today I am not sad. I am happy that after 20 years I can finally do this with a smile on my face,” she said, adding that she had been kept busy by the antics of her five stars. “They have a green room each, but they are running in and out of each other’s rooms all day. And because they walk the runway together they are arguing about who gets to go in the middle, just like the old days.”
Donatella Versace used prints from her brother’s collections between 1991 and 1995 as the basis for this collection. “The silhouettes are all new because the shapes from those days look dated today,” she said. “Except the leggings. Everyone loves the leggings again. The models like Gigi and Bella [Hadid] are always asking me where they can get the nineties Versace leggings.”
She decided on his famously exuberant prints as the best homage to her brother because “Gianni was all about joy, and so full of life, and the prints really express that spirit”. Leopard from the Animaliercollection of 1992, Greek keys from the Baroque collection of 1991 and Marilyn screenprints from the 1991 Warhol show were revisited for this season.
Alessandro Michele of Gucci, Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino and Anthony Vaccarello of Saint Laurent were among the designers who had accepted Donatella’s invitation to attend the show.
Earlier, at the Cavalli show , there was a cooler tone on a catwalk that has felt hectic in the past. Froufrou embellishments were banished in favour of lean, athletic, body-framing lines. Racer-back shapes, sporty stretch fabrics and clean, simple styling edged the brand out of the boudoir. Daywear pieces far outnumbered gowns, and most of the shoes were flat. Monochromatic zebra stripes appeared where leopard print once ruled.
Paul Surridge, the British designer now presiding over the leopard print empire that is Roberto Cavalli, is smart enough to recognise when a brand does not lend itself to intellectualising. Wearing Roberto Cavalli is to fashion what buying expensive champagne, shaking the bottle and spraying it over your friends is to wine connoisseurship.
In his first Cavalli show on Friday at Milan fashion week, Surridge kept faith with the brand’s heritage but modernised and streamlined the clothes on the runway.
“It isn’t intellectual – it’s a deliberate move away from that sort of fashion,” explained Surridge in a recent interview. “This woman … is athletic, beautiful and she doesn’t want to be questioned.”
Roberto Cavalli left the brand he founded two years ago, resigning from design duties and selling 90% of the company. His immediate successor, Peter Dundas, hired from fellow Milan-glam brand Pucci, lasted only three seasons. This show was the first by Surridge, who took up the job two months ago.
The role is Surridge’s first front-of-house position, but he has an impressive CV, having worked at Calvin Klein in its 1990s pomp, under Christopher Bailey at Burberry and under Raf Simons at Jil Sander. It was at Jil Sander that he impressed the then CEO, Gian Giacomo Ferraris, who now leads the Cavalli brand. Ferraris has praised Surridge’s creative talent, managerial abilities and brand vision.
Surridge’s background is largely in menswear, most recently at Acne, but crossing the floor to womenswear represents less of a leap than the aesthetic one. Surridge, whose career has been spent mostly in minimalist brands, is now at the most maximalist of them all. But before the show, he insisted the brand’s bold image was a blessing as a designer.
“The Cavalli codes are very specific, which makes it a lot easier for someone coming into the house like me, in terms of a frame.”