Donatella Versace Draws A-List for New York Runway Show

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Norman Reedus and Diane Kruger at the Versace Pre-Fall 2019 Show

On what would have been Gianni Versace’s 72nd birthday, his sister turned a pre-fall fashion show into an A-list party, with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, Bradley Cooper, Blake Lively, Lupita Nyong’o and many more.

Who would venture out on a rainy Sunday night to Lower Manhattan for a fashion show in December? If that show is Versace, the answer is, apparently, everyone!

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, Blake Lively, Lupita Nyong’o, Bradley Cooper, Diane Kruger and Norman Reedus, Tracee Ellis Ross, Mary J. Blige, Uma Thurman and 2Chainz were among those on the front row for Donatella Versace’s first-ever New York show for her house’s signature label.

High-wattage runway events debuting pre-fall collections have become more plentiful in recent seasons, and it makes sense that Versace would be the house to put that idea on steroids. In the midst of the cavernous room that is home to the New York Stock Exchange, Donatella conjured an actual-size replica of the Statue of Liberty’s hand holding the torch, from wrist to flame rendered in Versace-esque gold, at once conveying multiple messages.

In September, the company was sold to Michael Kors for $2.12 billion — with Donatella staying on as creative director — thus that golden torch conjured thoughts not only of arrival in America, of opening new doors and of newfound independence, but also of the unabashed luxe that is second nature to the woman who has helmed the house for more than 20 years.

“My very first show was for Versus Versace when I was 15, so I’ve known Donatella for a long time — there’s an opulence to her vision and her love of life that I find really joyful,” Kruger said before the show.

The star power, of course, was not exclusive to the front row. Kaia Gerber opened the runway show and was soon followed by a freshly married Hailey Baldwin Bieber, Gigi Hadid, Irina Shayk, Emily Ratajkowski and Candice Swanepoel. 

And while pre-fall, the collection that arrives in stores during the summer months is by definition meant to be a somewhat less-conspicuous bridge between the larger spring and fall shows, though you wouldn’t know it when viewing Sunday night’s event. The fashion matched the glamour of the guest list, an expansive collection that mined some of the house’s best-known elements, beginning with Versace’s iconic Barocco print, made new for 2019 with the addition of stars seemingly borrowed from the American flag and mixed liberally with a zebra stripe.

On Sunday, Gianni Versace would have been 72 years old, and not unlike the Spring 2018 collection she produced to honor the 20th anniversary of her brother’s death, Donatella seemed intent on celebrating the best of his legacy. (Given how successful that spring collection was with editors and customers alike, it’s not a bad idea.) Hence that Barocco print, which was quickly followed by a modern, asymmetrical take on the safety-pin dress Gianni Versace created as part of his Spring 1994 collection — you know, the dress Elizabeth Hurley famously wore to the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral that same year.

Speaking of iconic red-carpet designs, Amber Valletta closed the show wearing an updated version of Versace’s chiffon jungle-print gown — its neckline cut to the navel, its skirt slit to the waist, the briefest bodysuit and artful engineering doing all the work in between. Valletta originally wore the look for the finale of Donatella’s Spring 2000 show, though — not unlike that 1994 moment — the design vaulted into the mainstream six months later when Jennifer Lopez turned up in the dress at the Grammy Awards. This time around, however, instead of a jungle print, the design was rendered in hearts by Jim Dine, the American pop artist who inspired many of Gianni Versace’s late-‘90s prints.

“I didn’t know I would be wearing this dress or closing the show until I got to the fitting,” Valletta noted backstage. “Versace is a family, and I’ve been part of that family for 25-plus years. When Versace calls, I come.”

Beyond the greatest hits that played throughout the collection, plenty of fresh ideas also were on display, starting with Gerber’s opening look, a mix of textures that combined a patent-leather jacket with a midriff-baring knit, an asymmetrical satin skirt clinched with safety pins (the label’s key detail for the season) and knee-high boots, all in spicy neutrals. A silk tuxedo that blended animal prints in vivid turquoise and chocolate likewise felt right, especially when paired with of-the-moment sneakers. By the time Valletta hit the runway, it was clear that this wasn’t a moment to celebrate only Gianni’s work, but the duality of the brother-sister vision.

Valletta agreed. “I’m always grateful to Gianni that he gave me a place in the industry and was one of the first designers to use me and believe in me, but Donatella has really made Versace her own,” she said. “It’s no coincidence that the show is today; I’m sure Gianni is very strong in Donatella’s mind. Versace always has been kind of punk, confident, sexy, super-feminine, empowering and free, and that message was not only from Gianni but Donatella as well. She is that woman; there’s a lot of nostalgia and symbolism, but she’s also focused on what is right now.”

Instead of the traditional carousel at show’s end, the models herded into a formation around that gold torch, and when Donatella came out to take her bow, waiters bearing trays of gold-rimmed champagne glasses appeared. Thus the post-show well-wishing turned into a party — to commemorate Gianni’s birthday, perhaps, or the label’s new home under the Michael Kors umbrella, or perhaps a sense of artistic freedom. These days, the House of Versace, it seems, has plenty to celebrate.