Classical architecture and art fascinated Gianni Versace, the legendary designer and creator of the colossal fashion house that bares his name. Growing up in Calabria, a region of southern Italy famed for historical archaeological sites, he routinely came across ancient Roman baths, Greek temples and other enduring legacies of Italy’s storied past. According to Versace’s sister Donatella, who has run the label since her brother’s death in 1997, Gianni also took inspiration from ancient myth. ‘When I asked Gianni why he chose the Medusa as the house’s symbol, he told me he thought that whoever falls in love with the Medusa can’t flee from her,’ she once said.
Living the Versace lifestyle
It’s a fitting tale for a fashion house that has captured the minds of women, and men, around the world for its couture, ready-to-wear and jewellery collections. ‘Versace is a lifestyle and it should be an all-embracing decision for those who choose to adopt it,’ he said in 1992. Focused on that belief and keen to expand his label from a luxury brand to a way of life, Versace launched a range of homeware that year. He treated the home as he treated clothes, adorning sofas, chairs and duvets with the neo-classical Greek fret – the cubic gold band that has become one of Versace’s most recognisable patterns.
As part of the expansion Versace sought to bring his aesthetic to fine dining. In 1993 he teamed up with Rosenthal, the German design company that has produced hand-painted porcelain in Germany since 1879. The Rosenthal Meets Versace line took tabletop culture in a bold new direction by melding the traditional with the avant-garde. From Inca kings surrounded by baroque-style festoons and griffins, to starfish, sea snails and corals set delicately in gold, the collaboration transformed plates into mouth-watering art, all in high octane, take-no-prisoners print and colour; leopard spots spliced with traditional, dainty roses? No problem.
Twenty years on
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the collection, Rosenthal and Versace recently released a limited-edition series of 20 plates. The glorious creations honour Versace’s signature designs and the journey the two brands have taken together over time and across cultures. The Medusa range, from the 1993 collection, features a magnificent gold-coloured Medusa head surrounded by opulent golden laurels. Le Jardin de Versace, from 1996, stands out for its vivid colours. Deep red and turquoise butterflies flutter around ladybirds and cherry blossoms against a calming pink background.
Icons of our time
The trip through time also reflects Donatella Versace’s deeply personal journey. After Gianni’s tragic death in 1997, she suddenly found herself in charge of upholding his legacy as design director of the house. ‘After my brother’s terrible death, all the iconography was like a sanctuary, so special, it felt untouchable,’ she said in a public speech at Oxford University in 2012.
The Versace homeware collection is proof that she did. The limited-edition collection also includes plates that build on, and re-interpret, Gianni’s original motifs. Medusa Blue, first issued in 2001, invokes his earlier Medusa plate, but uses royal blue, the original colour of the Versace Home collection, as its unifying colour. Les Rêves Byzantins references the legendary world of the Arabian Nights with its exotic pink and gold design. But it also exudes Byzantine opulence with its magnificent ornamentation – one of Versace’s hallmarks.
What the brand has achieved with such élan is to bring a fresh, bold vision to porcelain and fine china which was more usually associated with polite pastels and floral motifs. Versace’s distinctive crockery, linen and furniture, featuring the brand’s vampish, glamour-after-dark aesthetic, bring a visionary edge to interior design. And when your interiors are this devilishly daring and decadent, a simple cocktail around the coffee table becomes an occasion.