At Versace Fall-Winter 2024, Donatella Says She’s Over the Himbo

Courtesy of Versace / Stefano Guindani

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When Donatella Versace walks into a room, the effect is similar to a flashbulb going off in your face. Her peroxide ’do is as bright as ever, and she has a deep-August tan in February. Her effect is so much larger than her small frame. It’s partly her iconic image, completed by the black six-inch platform boots and quarterback-shouldered blazer. (Also, of course, in black.) But right now, Versace arguably stands stronger than ever. Far from slowing down, the late-career legend is instead seizing the moment.

It’s a drizzly and dreadfully smoggy morning in Milan, but you wouldn’t know it in Versace’s modern tenth-floor office, where the floor is marble, the leather couches are white and studded with gold Medusa heads, and the guy manning the espresso station is very hot. The whole thing is, obviously, incredibly Versace. It’s the day before the Versace Fall-Winter 2024 runway show, and the designer is hosting a small group of journalists for her traditional press preview. Perched on a white couch, an aide hands her a microphone. “Today we need a lot of courage to go ahead, because of all the horrible things happening around us,” she says, adding that she wants to push a message of “positivity, of togetherness.”

Versace has said she still feels nervous before shows, which is funny because her name is synonymous with sizzling confidence. Ever since the brand was founded by Donatella’s older brother Gianni in 1978, when she was 23, Versace has made clothing that is unapologetically, opulently sexy. (Donatella took over the brand following her brother’s 1997 murder.) Along the way, the world changed in myriad ways, and Versace adapted—Donatella is nothing if not open-minded. But she never abandoned the brand’s sultry core. The Versace suit has shape-shifted along with the rest of men’s tailoring, but it retains its distinctive verve, and still looks best worn with spit-shined loafers and a deeply-unbuttoned silk shirt.

Donatella Versace takes her bow on Friday night in Milan.
Donatella Versace takes her bow on Friday night in Milan.
Getty Images / Daniele Venturelli

Right now in particular, everyone loves Versace, and everyone especially loves Donatella Versace. She has always been embedded in celebrity culture, but when she held a runway show in Los Angeles a few days before the 2023 Oscars, half of Hollywood turned up for a night Versace says she considers a turning point. The spectacle was huge, but in reimagining power tailoring for today, it was also one of her most critically acclaimed collections in years. Dwyane Wade, who calls her “DV,” told me a few months ago that she is “iconic.”

There’s also no bigger name among nostalgic Gen-Z fashion fans: For those who covet vintage sportswear from the hedonistic ’90s, DV is god. When luxury archival fashion store James Veloria opened in Los Angeles, the racks were stocked with 150 pieces of Donatella-designed Versace from the ’90s and ’00s. In New York, downtown vintage dealer Emma Rogue slings distressed, medusa-branded denim left and right; Donatella invited her to a show last year in Milan. “I look up to her,” Rogue told me recently.

Courage, positivity: Versace has always understood fashion’s capacity to make you feel stronger. And this season, she found strength in sophistication. “The man in this collection,” she says, “is like a guardian, he’s a person protecting, this is what I hope.” In her office, Versace summons a model wearing a gray blazer with five buttons running down the front. Big shoulders, small waist. On an adjacent moodboard, there’s an image of Prince wearing a similar coat in red. This is not a coincidence. Perched on the couch, Versace explains that the man in the collection is a “shy genius,” the blazer an evolution of one she found in the archive that had been originally made for The Purple One in the ’90s. “When I think of a new man, I think of Prince,” Versace says.

Talk about seizing the moment. Did Donatella Versace just kill the himbo?

As Donatella runs through the collection, there is certainly no sign of silky cabana sets meant to be worn abs-out on South Beach. There’s a gorgeous red calf-hair coat with painted edges, made—like most of the collection—in Versace’s custom atelier. “We’ve been saying, this is real luxury,” says Donatella. The handiwork is evident in a series of brown bouclé tweed coats and jackets, embroidered with shimmery black crystals, that she says will be “expensive.” Luxury today, Donatella suggests, must be inherent, a clear nod to the new menswear consumer who is willing to shell out for real-deal quality.

Backstage at Versace Fall-Winter 2024
Backstage at Versace Fall-Winter 2024
Courtesy of Versace / Stefano Guindani
<cite class="credit">Courtesy of Versace / Stefano Guindani</cite>
Courtesy of Versace / Stefano Guindani

But it was really the sketch of Prince throughout that feels like Versace’s definitive statement for the moment. At a brand that has, historically, been relatively traditional in its approach to gender, the collection includes men wearing clingy tights and ballet flats, and riding pants under leather boots that stretch all the way up their thighs. There are more variations of that many-buttoned suit, too—some long, some short, all designed to make the wearer look taller, as originally requested by Prince himself according to Donatella. ’90s Versace is huge right now, and this silhouette, tweaked with a bit more heft and structure, feels as modern as anything else from that section of the archives.

Prince’s likeness is no stranger to fashion moodboards, but he and Donatella had a special relationship. I sense she doesn’t invoke him lightly these days. “I met a lot of artists and normal people, but the man who captured my mind is Prince,” she tells me at the end of the preview. They were close friends, and he visited her in Milan often. “He was always coming here and nobody knew,” she says. She has long cited the artist, who appeared in a Versace campaign in 1996, as an influence on her work. In an email, she elaborates on why he felt particularly relevant in 2024: He was, she says, “An extrovert in the eyes of the public with a strong look and attitude. But he used the armor of the clothing as an empowerment for his shy personality.”

Again, “shy” is associated with Versace the same way it is with Rob Gronkowsi. As in, not at all. But Donatella tells me that, in the scope of her career designing menswear, she is especially gratified by how she’s shifted the image of the Versace man. “I’m most proud of bringing the man back to a more refined aesthetic, still confident, strong, and loud but in a more intellectual way… He is a man less provocative on the outside and has a more body-conscious and intellectual approach.”

But Donatella can’t resist a little bit of classic Versace flash. She had the blazers and coats lined in the house’s signature ornate silk; the golden patterns will just peek out on the runway the next evening when the models hit their quick struts. She likes the way it represents a modern sense of power. “The shiny, bright lining is worn on the inside,” she tells me. “You feel it on your skin, but do not expose it to the external viewer.”

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Originally Appeared on GQ

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