Gianni, Santo and Donatella Versace were brought up in Calabria, Italy, by their father and dressmaker mother. Ten years Gianni’s junior, Donatella Versace always played muse to her fashion-mad brother. As she told Vogue in October 1998, by the time she was 11-years-old, she was already dyeing her hair blonde (“Just the front bits – the streaks got bigger and bigger”) and wearing the clothes he designed specially for her.
When Gianni relocated to Florence in the mid-Seventies to embark on a career in knitwear design, Donatella found herself plunged into the fashion world alongside him. While studying Italian literature at university, she would visit him in his studio at weekends. After she graduated, she and her brother shared a flat together in Milan. Donatella had planned to work for Gianni as his PR but, when he founded his own company in 1978, he discovered that he valued her more as a muse and critic. In the Eighties, Gianni launched a perfume dedicated to her, Blonde, and gave her own diffusion label, Versus.
Donatella finally took the reins of the Versace design house after her brother’s brutal murder outside his South Beach mansion in Miami on 15 July 1997. Three months after his death, she miraculously pulled together a ready-to-wear collection which Vogue later described as “more than credible”. She followed that with her solo debut for the mainline collection in the spring of 1998. A year and three days after Gianni’s death in July 1998, she mounted her first couture show for the Versace Atelier in the Paris Ritz, building her runway over the hotel’s swimming pool as her brother had done every season, though this time using sheer glass. She now oversees the production of a dozen collections each year though these days, Donatella is just as famous for her celebrity entourage and glittering parties. Regular guests include Elton John, Liz Hurley, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kate Moss. Even Prince Charles won’t turn down an invite from her.
She is married to former male model Paul Beck with whom she has a son, Daniel, and a daughter, Allegra, both of whom she sent to English schools in Milan. After her uncle’s death, it was Allegra, then aged 11, who inherited the most part of his fortune, including a 45 per cent share in the Versace family business. Beck is in charge of Versace’s advertising.
When in London, Donatella prefers to stay at Claridge’s on Brook Street, next door to Space NK, where she regularly goes to stock up on her favourite scented candle: Diptyque’s Figuier. In February 2001, Donatella launched her own fragrance, Versace Woman.