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Deborah Ball's House of Versace Recounts Tales of Drug Addiction, Heavy Spending, and Even a Little Megalomania

Deborah Ball's House of Versace Recounts Tales of Drug Addiction, Heavy Spending, and Even a Little Megalomania


>> Yesterday
, Deborah Ball, Milan correspondent for the Wall Street Journal since 1997, published House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival, after conducting 220 interviews with the likes of Donatella Versace, her brother Santo Versace, Gianni Versace's partner Antonio D'Amico, Anna Wintour, Joe McKenna, Brana Wolf, and Francois Nars.  In fact, the only person to decline Ball an interview was Allegra Beck Versace, who has never had a predilection for talking to press. House of Versace is the first book to chronicle the ups and downs of the Versace family in English, and it's also the first book written for which the Versaces granted help.

Ball touches on Donatella's long battle with drug addiction, the Versaces' heavy spending habits, Allegra's anorexia, why Gianni left his 50 percent stake in the company to Allegra, and more.

Among the tidbits we learned while perusing the book's contents »

Among the tidbits we learned while perusing the book's contents:

1. Claudia Schiffer didn't appear in George Michael's "Freedom! '90" video because her agent wouldn't allow it.  She also wasn't hired for her runway walk.

"We used to have to put Claudia in flat shoes because she didn't know how to walk," according to longtime Versace assistant Angelo Azzena. "She was an ugly duckling. She would get to the end of the runway, make her turn, and it was like, 'Where am I?' But Gianni didn't care. She was on the cover of American Vogue."

2. Gianni found inspiration for the Versace medusa logo from the 18th-century palazzo on Milan's Via del Gesu he bought in 1981.

"On the knocker of its main double door, Gianni noticed an odd, if ominous, mythological figure," Ball writes. "The head of a medusa. He had been looking for a logo for his growing brand and found the medusa fitting, a reference to a childhood spent playing among the Greek relics in [southern Italy]. The medusa was an apt symbol of the Versace brand's sensibility, at once classical, alluring, theatrical, garish, and dangerous."

3. By the early '80s, Milan was rife with stories of Giorgio Armani's obsession with control.  Then, Gianni considered Armani his main rival, illustrated by the well-circulated saying "Armani dressed the wife and Versace dressed the mistress."

Armani workers had contracts stipulating that if they merely attended another designer's runway show, it was a fireable offense.  "Once, when he staged his runway show in a storied building in the historic center [of Milan]," Ball recounts, "he covered the magnificent frescoes on the ceiling so that they wouldn't distract the audience from his clothes."  Armani told W in 2000, "Something as simple as the girl putting her hands on her hips the wrong way could ruin the magic I envision."

4. Gianni and his partner Antonio had a perchant for employing male prostitutes.

"Miami Beach's surfeit of ripe male flesh made for a thriving prostitution business," Ball reports. "Something Gianni and Antonio had indulged in from their first trips to South Beach in the early 1990s. Antonio and Gianni were largely faithful to each other, but each liked something on the side."

5. Early on in the millenium, Donatella was spending more than $150,000 a year on hair extensions.

"Harsh color treatments and daily styling with hot irons had burned Donatella's natural hair to a crisp," Ball writes. Donatella flew in a top hairdresser who specialized in extensions from New York to apply wefts of human hair, which cost more than $1,000 because of the rare blonde shade, every six to eight weeks.

6. At Gianni's memorial service, Anna Wintour choked up.

Despite her reknowned "chilly reserve," Wintour "choked up as she recalled the monthly faxes Gianni sent her with punctillious comments on each issue of Vogue," according to Ball.

7. The Versaces considered hiring Karl Lagerfeld after Gianni was murdered.

"Santo and Donatella briefly considered hiring an outside designer to replace their brother; they even drew up a short list of names that included Karl Lagerfeld. Very quickly, however, they agreed that Donatella would step into Gianni's shoes."

8. Tom Ford and business partner Domenico De Sole tried to partner up with the Versaces twice.

In 1997, before Gianni's death and pre-Gucci Group, De Sole pitched a Versace-Gucci merger to attempt competing with LVMH.  After the idea was heavily explored, Gianni vetoed the idea because he wanted to keep full control.

In 2004, after De Sole and Ford exited Gucci and when Versace was still suffering post-Gianni, Ford and De Sole offered to restore Versace to profitability if the heavily drug-addicted Donatella would leave and give Ford full control.  Donatella had been willing to let go of some of her responsibilities for Ford, but shocked at his arrogance cut off all talks.

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