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'BUSINESS ENTERS INTO EVERY ASPECT OF ART, SEX, AND LOVE'

Amid the priceless art treasures in Gianni Versace's 18th-century palazzo on Milan's Via del Gesu, which was both his home and corporate headquarters, the designer in April gave one of his last in-person interviews, to BUSINESS WEEK's Rome Bureau Chief John Rossant. Dressed in a black cashmere polo shirt, Versace explained that he was trying it out for next year's collection. ''When I do menswear,'' he said, ''I experiment with it myself.'' The following are excerpts from that meeting and from more-recent phone chats:

ON GOING PUBLIC I'm discovering that I'm into business. After so many years of doing fashion, I like the idea of putting my fingers into the business side--of going to the stock market with Gianni Versace. I'd like people to be as crazy for my shares as they are for my clothes. Going public is to say: This is what I've done in the last 30 years.... I want [the company] to be perfect when we go to the market.

ON WHO HE DESIGNS FOR Recently, I spent two nights in Miami with Madonna. Then, I rushed to New York to be with Courtney Love. On the Wednesday I was in London with Princess Diana. Then back to New York with Caroline Bessette Kennedy. I call them my ''poker women'' because there are four of them. They give me inspiration. Their needs are so different. You have to produce something spectacular for Madonna, something classic for Diana, and something chic for Caroline Bessette.

ON GLOBALIZATION OF THE FASHION BUSINESS Fashion is more and more global. It doesn't belong anymore to the French. Or even to the Italians. I'm a global person: I spend two months in Como [in the Italian Alps], one month in Milan, two months in Miami. I just don't think any longer in terms of nationality. Calvin Klein is American, [but he] makes things in Italy. The French houses all have English designers now, and women are going global.

ON ITALIAN FASHION I've been on the cutting edge for 20 years. If I didn't have this Italian background of culture and family I couldn't have done it. Italy's strength is a historical fact: We have the textile industry, we have the tradition of family work, and the tradition of quality.

ON ART COLLECTING The person I admired most was Andy Warhol. He used to say to me: ''Even Michelangelo got paid for doing the Sistine Chapel.'' Business enters into every aspect of art, sex, and love. To those artists who say they're doing it for the love of art, I say: Get real.

ON THE FASHION INDUSTRY Fashion is going through a crisis now, and we see a lot of designers disappearing. We've survived because we're younger and lighter-hearted. Armani's survived, though he's chosen a different path. But for me, the important thing is to roll up my sleeves and work. I can have a great season, and then the next one will be a disaster. You never know.



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Updated July 17, 1997 by bwwebmaster
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