Versace has been at the centre of the fashion rumour mill in recent weeks. Whispers suggest Riccardo Tisci, who left Givenchy this month, is poised to take over from Donatella Versace, who has been at the creative helm since her brother Gianni died in 1997.
If the rumours are true, then Friday evening’s show in Milan was her last.
The 61-year-old designer, usually seen in rock’n’roll black and sky-high heels, has come to represent the brand’s formidable female glamour. And, true to form, as one of the most powerful women in fashion – leading a company thought to be worth £1.05bn – she chose this season to, quite literally, spell out her feminist credentials.
Words covered the collection from the start. A beanie had “loyalty” written across it; other pieces read “unity” and “courage”. The show invite, which came in the form of a leopard-print notebook, had “strength” written along its spine.
At the preview, Donatella said: “I wanted to say these words to women because the world is a strange place at the moment, and everything we have achieved as women could be gone tomorrow. We must unite to protect what we have achieved.”
With the A Day Without a Woman general strike taking place next month, Donatella is in line with the latest wave of feminist protest – in mood, at least.
Her latest collection played with themes she has virtually trademarked over her tenure. There were power dresses in dégradé sequins and in chainmail, with similar wow factor to the rose gold dress worn by Michelle Obama at the last state dinner.
Other dresses had cut-out details and thigh-high splits. Padded jackets, sweaters and bomber jackets were designed to show off the wearer’s abs. These were glamorous, tough, body-confident clothes showcased by this year’s supermodels including Gigi Hadid and Adwoa Aboah, and the original Versace campaign star, 43-year-old Amber Valetta.
The hooded tops and sporty shapes felt right for fashion’s current mood but they also hinted at a possible subplot: Tisci was one of the first designers to put the hoodie on the catwalk – did Donatella’s collection herald the shape of things to come?
Many in the industry see a move by Tisci to Versace as a foregone conclusion. Reports suggest the contract has been signed and an announcement is imminent.
In an interview with Women’s Wear Daily, Roopal Patel, the fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, described Tisci as “heir apparent” to the creative director role at Versace.
Such a move makes sense. Italian-born Tisci, 42, has proved he can take an established brand and make it accessible and desirable to a younger generation. By putting hoodies and trainers on the catwalk, many under-30s associate Givenchy with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian-West rather than Audrey Hepburn.
Although Versace is hardly a sleeping giant, a refresh by Tisci would most likely push the brand in a new direction – and his 1.9 million Instagram followers will surely go along for the ride.
Donatella has a track record of recognising younger talent, with Christopher Kane, JW Anderson and Anthony Vaccarello (now creative director at Saint Laurent) among those who have worked with her. There is also a collaboration with former One Direction singer Zayn Malik launching in May.
Tisci and Donatella are friends – he even took the unusual step of casting her in a Givenchy campaign in 2015. “Riccardo Tisci is extremely talented and, above all, my dear friend. We are family,” Donatella said at the time. As the head of a company built by three siblings, such sentiment is far from empty.
Versace has achieved a healthy increase in profits since Gian Giacomo Ferraris joined the company as chief executive in 2009, with revenues up 8.6% in 2015.
The figures for 2016 are believed to be less rosy, leading Ferraris to lament “a difficult year” in an interview with Reuters.
This may indeed be another reason to draft in Tisci. Givenchy grew sixfold in the 12 years he was creative director and its revenues are thought to be a cool €422m (£360m).
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