House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival is a 2010 book by Deborah Ball about the heritage of Versace, one of high-fashion’s most colorful brands, both in terms of design and background. Known for its bright patterns that border on garish, the house was thrust into a different kind of limelight when its founder, Gianni, was shot dead by Andrew Cunanan. The incident became a morbid source of pride for most Filipinos, who seemed to relish the fact that Cunanan is Filipino. The book details Versace’s downward spiral, led by Gianni’s sister Donatella.
The book was a terrific read. I’ve always been fascinated by the outre styling of Versace and the persona of Donatella. The book practically touched every aspect of the birth of the brand, from its design, finances, and its place in the fashion galaxy. I appreciated how it wasn’t a fluff piece, or an ode to the label. It was honest, even brutal, especially when it described Versace as small compared to other labels like Louis Vuitton and Gucci. In the end, it wrapped with an open question, wondering whether Versace can keep up with the competition instead of harping how the world will finally bow down to Donatella.
The story itself is fascinating. Gianni rose from a poor region in Italy, and began his rapid rise in fashion, his taste for outrageous designs and crazy patterns shocking most locals, who discriminated against him because of his region. They preferred Armani, whose elegant and classy designs were reminiscent of the sophisticated haute couture of Paris. In fact, there was one saying that went “Armani dressed the wife, Versace the mistress.”
For a young brand, Versace has gone through a lot of shit, losing its talented designer at the height of his fame and leaving the the house to his younger sister. Frankly, the publicity Donatella gathered for the house did a lot of good, but her excessive lifestyle almost ruined the house, which has immortalized the supermodel and created the cult of celebrity. More importantly, Versace made clashing prints and neon colors a legitimate trend, and that piling color upon color can be sexy.
What Gianni and Donatella lacked in a poor sob story, they made up for with high drama. From Gianni’s untimely murder to Donatella’s destructive habits and high-camp personality, it dishes up all the facts on the family without sounding dirty or sleazy. There was actually something heartwarming about the book, with the Versace siblings’ strong emphasis on family.
It’s a story of fashion, believing in yourself, murder, but really, House of Versace is all about faith and having a strong team behind your back, because at the end of the day, family is all you’ll have. But when they’re dressed in Versace from head to toe, you might as well enjoy life, too.