Gianni Versace was born in Reggio Calabria, Italy, on December 2, 1946. After an apprenticeship at his mother’s dressmaking business, he began working as a freelance designer. At age 25, Versace was creating prêt-à-porter collections for top fashion houses of the time, including Genny, Complice and Callaghan.
In 1978, with the help of his brother, Santo, he founded the Gianni Versace company. Later that year, the first Gianni Versace collection for women was shown in Milan.
Gianni’s bold creative genius consistently challenged the boundaries of the fashion industry. His distinctive cuts, vibrant prints and unconventional materials brilliantly united high art and contemporary culture, and he quickly earned international praise. In 1982 Gianni won the Cutty Sark and Golden Eye (L’Occhio d’Oro) awards for his 1982-1983 Fall/Winter women’s collection – in which he presented his famous metal chain-mail dress. Versace also received the Golden Eye in 1984, ’90, and ’91
Also in 1982, Versace began work for Teatro della Scala, designing costumes for Veronesi’s production of “Josephlegende”. Gianni’s engagement with the theater sparked a passion that would span his career. He was an ardent patron of the performing and visual arts and an esteemed member of the international artistic community. Versace’s spectacular costumes were featured in stage events worldwide, among them Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” (1984) Bob Wilson’s “Salome” (1987) and “Doktor Faust” (1989), and several Béjart ballets, including “Dionysos” (1984), “Leda and the Swan” (1987), “Malraux ou la Métamorphose des Dieux” (1986) and “Chaka Zulu” (1989). In 1985 Versace was awarded the “Maschera d’Argento” (Silver Mask) award for his contribution to the theater.
In 1988 the jury of the Cutty Sark Award named Versace “the most innovative and creative designer in the world.” In 1993, the Council of Fashion Designers of America awarded the American Fashion Oscar to Versace, and he was honored by the Italian and French presidents.
1994 marked the opening of the Versace flagship boutique in the prestigious Kurfürstendamm, Berlin. In September, the “Versace Signatures” exhibition opened at the Kunstgewerbemuseum.
Also in 1994, Versace published “Designs” the English version of his book, “Vanitas – Ricami e Decori – Decori e Ricami.” Collaborating with publisher Leonardo Arte, photographers Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber and others, Versace produced three more highly-acclaimed volumes: “Men Without Ties” (1994), “Do Not Disturb” (1995) and “Rock and Royalty” (1996).
In 1995 the first Versus fashion show was held in New York. That year, Versace sponsored the Haute Couture exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as Richard Avedon’s “1944-1994,” both of which met with great success.
Gianni Versace died on July 15, 1997 in Miami, Florida.