Miroslava Duma in conversation with Donatella Versace

Miroslava Duma in conversation with Donatella Versace

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Interview: Miroslava Duma

Image: Rahi Rezvani

The Versace doyenne reveals the secret behind building an effective team and speaks fondly about her relationship with Prince

During the men's show in June we heard several unreleased tracks from your friend, Prince and the after sounds of his style was also vivid in the images on the runway. Can you tell me more about your relations with this prominent musician?
Versace has always had close relations with musicians — Lenny Kravitz, Elton John, Prince and many more. I was eager to work with Prince but he was an extremely shy person and really difficult to catch. Then in 1998, he suddenly reached out to me with a phone call and I invited him to our studio. Since then, we were always in touch. Sometimes the phone would ring and I would answer only to hear silence on the other end. In 10 minutes, the phone will ring again and he would say, "It's me". But I knew from the first call that it was him because I've always had a strong connection with him. The last thing he asked me when he came for my shows was: "How are we going to teach the new generation what is true and what is not?". He was obsessed with that question. He wanted to reach out to young people and protect them from mistakes that were not easy to fix. In this day and age, anything from even technology can be dangerous — it makes our lives easier but it can also make it more complicated.

Speaking about musicians I can't help mentioning Lady Gaga and her song, Donatella devoted to you... 
I love Lady Gaga! She is so intelligent.

You created many iconic looks for her and other celebrities. How do you work with all these famous people? Are you tough and intransigent or are you ready to meet their ideas and expectations?
I always think about personality. Lady Gaga, for instance, always follows the principle of "the more, the better". She prefers very sexy outfits and never compromises on that. Another example is Angelina Jolie who wants to convey the message of care and giving so her dresses are more simple and serious in a way. They both look different but they both wear Versace.
There's a specific idea of a Versace woman: She is strong, independent, sexy and even dangerous. Have you ever thought of working with someone who is completely different from this stereotypic Versace image? Like Tilda Swinton for instance...
You read my mind! Tilda's androgynous beauty is just something special. I thought a lot about combining her short hair and flat shoes with a Versace dress — that's going be something extraordinary! But I would say it's not that impossible because Tilda is quite the Versace girl of today. We always keep on searching for new images. Have you seen our recent campaign with Karlie Kloss? She portrays the new type of Versace girl. 

You've been in charge of Versace for 20 years already through calm and tough years when the whole fashion system has been transforming dramatically. How has the style of the brand changed with time?
My style has changed in recent years and now I create totally different things from those I made 10 years ago. Today, I concentrate on daywear clothes that I want to be sexy and smart at the same time. I try to make clothes to empower women because I know if they feel good in their outfits they can reach any goals. I think about woman's style as a weapon that she needs to know how to use properly. Eveningwear represents our dreams and I try to bring the same magic to our daywear collections. I always pay attention to clothing cuts because I know women need comfort. After all, our self-confidence depends greatly on how we look.

Every day you work with the incredible aesthetics and heritage of Versace. How do you manage to move the company forward while keeping its DNA safe?
Versace has never been just a company — Versace is a whole lifestyle. We make chinaware, interior decor and even real estate under this brand. I try to keep all the ideas Gianni put in Versace such as our famous logo with Medusa's head, baroque luxury, and the bold and provocative style synonymous with the fashion house. But when I look back, I realise how many mistakes I could have avoided if I listened to myself instead of listening to other people's advice. I respect Gianni's legacy with all my heart but time changes and we need to meet modern realities. When he died, the Internet didn't even exist, and now technology has changed everything including the fashion industry.
Versace is one of those rare brands, which has remained independent. I know that 20% of the company's shares has been sold. So people do really want to invest in Versace... 
That's true. But we don't put money in our pockets. We invest, invest and invest in our development.

Can one call Versace a family company?
Not anymore. We have an independent board of directors and all the decisions are made by votes.

Is that a more comfortable way to make business?
Yes. Independent people can tell you what's wrong and what's right. You can discuss with them any issue and be sure they are honest. And everyone brings new ideas and challenges to the company. What I like most about this form of management is that people on the board may not be from fashion, but they are real experts in other fields.

We live in the world of fast fashion. According to sociological estimate, people consume about eight billion units of clothes yearly. Only Versace presents up to 10 collections per year...
I agree. It's too much. Everyday more and more clothes come to shops and compete with each other. These days, anyone can do fashion and there are so many new designers and brands. We have to get back to the real fashion culture. You don't need to fill your shop with hundreds of outfits and then add another collection after another to dilute them. It's enough to have 10 good items in your showroom and then add another 10 to refresh the assortment.
And with modern technologies that's supposed to make things easier has sometimes made that just impossible, simply because of the pace...
That's true. Technology sets an extreme pace and not everybody can adjust to it that quickly. Clients want more and more and they want it all right now. They see, they like, they buy — that's how the system works in the client's mind. And while we may be able to satisfy that pace with our second line, Versus, things are not that easily achievable with our couture collections. We are no longer able to keep up with the pace of luxury fashion. We used to have six months after any show to prepare for the collection. Now, we have no more than two. I think the fashion calendar is no longer sustainable or the whole system in general. Maybe we (I mean all those people who are in the industry) need to sit together and discuss a new fashion order.

Now is really the time to start a constructive dialogue between people in the industry and I am glad to see the majority is ready to find solutions to these common problems  — even though they are each other's competitors. You became the face of Givenchy's advertising campaign and that's something unprecedented — a historic moment if you would say. How did Riccardo Tisci manage to persuade you?
He phoned me and said: "I am afraid to ask because you're going to say "no", but will you be a part of my new campaign?". I said yes and he couldn't believe it! Working with Riccardo was incredibly pleasant and we had lots of fun! I am sure that designers should talk to each other and work together if they want to change the industry. When it comes to common problems, there should be no envy and competition.

While looking through your Instagram and other social media, it's easy to notice how much respect you show towards people in your team. Can you share some secrets of effective teambuilding?
No one can achieve success without support and I am proud of the people who I work with. I think the secret is that I surround myself with personalities whose tastes differ from my own. For instance, there is a girl in one of my studios who is a minimalist in everything. She always wears black and flat shoes and never uses make-up. She challenges me and I like it. I never work with those who love Versace unconditionally. I prefer those who question everything I do and that really helps me to move forward.
You definitely have a gift at discovering talents. You turned the world's attention to Christopher Kane, Jonathan Anderson and Anthony Vaccarello when you invited them to work for Versace. After just a few collections for Versus, Christopher Kane got an offer from Kering to buy his brand's shares, Jonathan Anderson became creative director of Loewe and Anthony Vaccarello replaced Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent. What helps you discover real talents? Is it intuition?
I think yes, it's my intuition. I don't allow myself to be repetitive that's why I am always looking for inspiration. I love to deal with young talented people and I always try to embrace their creativity. I am not jealous if someone is more gifted than me or generate ideas faster. We just develop a positive and constructive dialogue with each other and try to find interesting solutions. The guys you mentioned mean a lot to me. They represent the new generation. They speak a different fashion language so thanks to them I am able discover a whole new world. You can't always be stuck in a moment even if it's the moment of your glory. You always need to move forward and challenge yourself.

Is that the secret to your success?
My secret is that I never stop working. Thinking over ideas is kind of a habit for me. If you stopped for just five minutes or if you lose your Internet connection, you may be at risk of missing great opportunities. Information is the key in all the aspects of life including fashion. You have to work with ideas every minute. We need to understand what women want even though it's always the same. They want to feel safe, to have power and independence. If you are a man, things are easier for you because no one takes your rights away.

For more interviews by Miroslava Duma, click here