n case any Oscar guests still haven’t found the perfect outfit for Sunday, Donatella Versace brought her catwalk show to LA for some last minute browsing on Thursday evening. And boy was it sexy.
And certainly not your average show. A 400-strong team had been busy all week constructing an open-air, gold and cream stage on top of the Pacific Design Center, overlooking the fabled Hollywood Hills. Forty seamstresses were imported from the Versace workshops in Milan. Some 520 guests flew in from across the globe: influencers, journalists, celebrities, those all important A-list stylists and those even more important 150 private clients.
Everything was timed down to the last second, so that the opening section of outfits, which consisted of minimalist black suits, would be silhouetted against the setting sun and, once the sky turned inky, the pinks, magentas, blues, yellows and oranges would begin to fizz. What could possibly go wrong?
The weather. With the mother of all storms predicted for Friday, the Versace team decided to bring everything forward by 24 hours, meaning that some journalists were still in the air as the metaphorical curtain went up. “I’m not sure why the big brands insist on putting on open-air shows in LA in winter,” one Hollywood-based reporter observed. “But God bless them for trying.”
Ever since Burberry staged a one-off show at the Griffith Observatory in 2015 (scene of the romantic dance-off between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land, which came out a year later), luxury houses have been intermittently lured to LA by the luminous light and the star wattage. No expense was spared and celebrities were out in force. Even those who weren’t famous looked as though they could be. These days everyone knows how to strike The Pose: one foot in front of the other, chin slightly out, eyes smouldering into the camera.
Without name badges it can be hard to tell who’s who, given the amount of work now being had by everyone, the men possibly more than the women. In true Donatella style, this was a sexy glamathon with multi-generational range.
The 76-year-old Cher arrived on the arm of her 37-year-old music producer boyfriend Alexander Edwards, proudly PDA-ing for the cameras. Dua Lipa, Miles Cyrus and Korean rapper T.O.P followed. Demi Moore, waist length hair swishing around her black dress like fringing, clucked around her pregnant daughter Rumer Willis and arranged the latter’s coat over her bump (the same Moore who famously appeared naked and seven months’ pregnant with Rumer’s younger sister Scout, on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991).
Lily James, whose most recent roles include playing Pamela Anderson, and the real Pamela Anderson, whose bird-like frame was aptly swathed in sparkly (fake) feathers.
Then came Channing Tatum, Anne Hathaway and the actor and musician Chris Lee. Kathy Hilton and her daughters Paris and Nicky. Jeff Bezos and his partner Lauren Sanchez. Celebrity stylists Elizabeth Saltzman – whose clients include Jodie Comer, Saoirse Ronan and Gwyneth Paltrow – and Law Roach, best known for dressing Zendaya. Apart from the fact that Sir Elton John had to be transported up to the final floor (no lifts) in a buggy, you’d never know we were sitting above a car park.
With all this going on, the clothes could have been an afterthought. Tight, slashed, a bit of embellishment, lots of bustiers – the Versace signatures are so well known she can probably recite them in her sleep. But after nearly 30 years running the label set up by her late brother Gianni, Donatella did something quite remarkable, stripping back the bling to focus on some spectacularly sharp tailoring.
Her starting point, she told me, was 1995’s spring collection by her brother (I spied one pink skirt suit that looked like an update of the Versace-designed one Princess Diana wore that year with a Jackie Kennedy-style pillbox hat). But Donatella’s main focus were the wide shoulders and contoured waists of Gianni’s 1995 jackets – a silhouette that has been sighted all over other catwalks. Donatella’s proportions are strong rather than cartoonish. Wool blazers were starkly plain, others shimmered with black beading. Coats were long waisted and slim on the torso or short dusters in caramel and black tweed and worn with tobacco coloured patent mini skirts.
As well as flat boots there were moderately high heels. The brick-like platforms from last September’s shows already seem to be a thing of the past. In another sign that she wants to be known as a woman who can dress other women for day as well as night, Donatella showed wide denim jeans with crisp white shirts.
Inevitably it’s the eveningwear people come to see at a Versace show and here things became even more interesting, as Donatella experimented with 1960s duchesse satin baby dolls and sheath dresses and toyed with moulded and tucked bust lines. The effect retained that quintessential Versace sexiness but in a more avant-garde way, which should appeal to younger celebrities who increasingly want to make big creative statements on the red carpet.
This more sophisticated take on glamour and sensuality is part of Versace’s wider strategy to broaden its appeal. So is working with celebrities such as Lily James, who went overnight last year from English Rose to vamp, courtesy of some glittery Versace gowns. She then starred in the brand’s autumn campaign, complete with a short black fringe and matching black lips.
“Lily’s so sweet and with such good manners,” observes Donatella, “but like almost everyone in Hollywood, she has her insecurities. It’s like being naked when you go on the red carpet – so much scrutiny and no character to hide behind.
“That’s why I make my dresses the way I do, to help them. Are they comfortable? Sometimes comfort’s an overrated concept. There are times when confidence is more important and good construction can give you that.”