Read an Excerpt
The Art of Artwear by Andre Leon Talley
Gianni Versace is a flamboyant genius, his work surpasses fashion to create a style, the style is Versace: it is a body of work that never needs the support of the fashion winds to blow it up into what it is. The figurations of Versace silk textiles and embroideries come from the last cultural gasp: ideas from events, music, art, cinema, and dance of today and yesterday. It is wildly enhancing and inspiring, this cultural mix to create modern Versace idions: style that dares to dare.
The great designer, Mme. Vionnet, who invented the bias cut, said: "I do not know what fashion is. I have never made fashion. I only made what I believe in." An atelier Versace design is something that the designer believes in, not something dictated by trends. His collections look like no others. One of the essential keys to the Versace look is the patterns of painterly abandon: Fragonard, Jacques-Louis David, Andy Warhol, camp movie posters, religious icons, art deco.
There is within Versace a balance of operatic excess and detail, with perfection of technique. Together, a collection of fiery, wild, superstar cowgirlcriss-crossing the runway in Paris in the Hotel Ritz or photographs, in slinky fringe, dangling from every surface of skirt, trains of skirts, boots to handbagsis achieved. His atelier Versace couture statements are wearable art for the woman who wants to invent her own sense of the glamorous object of the evening.
You wear Versace: you believe in daring and drama. His taste is at once totally Wagnerian and Andy Warholian. This takes a masterful eye, knowledge and technical precision to create thevisionary and painterly style that are flooded out in beading, embroidery, and silk printed textiles.
Look at Versace's version of the "Marilyn Monroe" pop icon print in beaded pants. The pants are cut with the ease of the modern street courier, or messenger boy, who glides along on his bike through rush-hour traffic, like a modern Mercury. The same "Marilyn" print was stamped out across stiletto heels, handbags, even a slim slice of an evening column. Gianni Versace may take a corner of David's "Les Sabines," a mythological subject, painted in 1799 in France. This huge painting is permanently housed in the Louvre.
The giant romantic message becomes a corner of silk ground that Gianni may use as a skirt, a skirt's silk lining, or inside huge exotic animal patterns from naturethe leopard, the cheetah, the tigerthat have been in fashion as far back as Renaissance tapestries of battle scenes, and elegant berain renderings of designs for court dance and theater in France. With Versace, the new Miami Beach jungle poster print is a masterwork of merging classical and modern elements. Today, Tarzan and Jane are entwined together and swing across a sea of leopard and cheetah spots. The couple's sensuous movie images are stamped out in original camp movie posters.
Lions roar, monkeys cackle, and elegant nude Neptunes, right out of the large fountains of Versailles, are diving along golden waves, as green crocodiles march along in precision, military drill style. I am describing a silk square for 1993. This Tarzan and Jane Miami poster may become the hidden luxury of linings or embroidered for high evening. It may soon be seen on the backs of all the modern Tarzans who strut around the beachfront near Gianni's favorite place for lunch, the News Cafe, in Miami. Those contemporary Tarzan wannabes know that the silk Ford, signed Versace, will make them instant objects admired, if not desired.
The world of Gianni Versace gives an optimism to the human spirit. There is substance to his style, he uses his ateliers as an experimental lab of inventive design in the decorative arts of silk and embroidered technique to seduce the senses.
If it is self-indulgent to some, so be it. The world of fashion in the eighties and in the nineties owes much to the confident and bold Universe of Versace's sophisticated sensuality and sexuality. It is the imagined universe of fantasy and magic. And swaggering luxe.
Author Biography: Hamish Bowles is Style Editor of Vogue magazine in New York.