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Summer for the Sun Queen


She studied literature and languages in Florence and lived with three friends, one of whom was also named Donatella. “She has dark, dark hair, long, long hair. She had a child when she was 20. They were very, very avant-garde, my friends at that time. It was a very glamorous time! It was very political time, too, a lot of demonstrations against everything. We were into music a lot, we would go to every concert. I hate the Beatles. Hate. Too commercial for me, but I loved the Rolling Stones. I met them twenty years ago, when Jerry Hall start to date Mick.” Donatella dressed like a gypsy and wore black eye makeup and had very little responsibility. “When I was in university, I love my life.”

That was then. Now Donatella must run the kingdom until the Little Princess is ready, and she has a show to put on and a collection to edit and a photo to pose for. But the makeup and the hair take so much time, and they are so crucial, she knows. Nobody wants to see just some person; she cannot appear before her subjects out of full regalia. So she keeps the photographer waiting as someone works on the eyes and someone works on the tresses, and she sends Joseph out with yet more cakes.

“God, it’s always like Mom’s kitchen in here,” says a blonde American called D. J. Coleman, who wears sunglasses inside and is waiting to talk to Donatella about the music for her show. “When I worked for Tom Ford, you couldn’t even say his name. Seriously, if you were at a restaurant and you were talking about him, you had to say, like, ‘Grandpa is doing a lot of red this season.’ ”

“It starts as a celebration,” says Donatella. “You don’t do drugs because they aren’t fun. They’re a lot of fun. But the celebration gets too often celebrated.”

Donatella emerges in all black. She always kept a room here as a place to stay when they were working late. “The last two years of Gianni’s life,” says Donatella, “I was going up into his apartment, showing him the work, getting the approval from him, but I ran the company because he wasn’t showing himself. It was like a year and a half I did everything.” On her walls there are two pieces by Julian Schnabel made from ceramic shards, a portrait of Gianni, and another of Allegra and Daniel. “The other way was more convenient for me, when I was next to Gianni, because Gianni was the one with all the responsibility, taking all the criticism. It was a more comfortable position.” She laughs. “Even if he said what was wrong was my fault, that was okay.”

She paces, smoking, lets them take a few shots, and then announces she is going back to her room. “I change clothes,” she tells the photographer. “I am insecure.”

The next evening at the New York Times party in the garden of the Hotel Bulgari, people are gushing sweat and drinking champagne. Paul Beck, Donatella’s ex-­husband, is in a gray shirt soaked through the armpits and the front of the chest. He still works for Versace, as he has for some twenty years, and he is circulating among the fashion press while Donatella prepares for the men’s-show rehearsal. He says hello to Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who both wear their company’s name on a gold plate on the tail pocket of their jeans. He exchanges greetings with Pharrell Williams, who is in pink sneakers. “He played at my daughter’s birthday party,” Beck explains—Allegra’s 18th, which was just before Donatella went into rehab.

There is something guilelessly flat about Paul Beck—you can imagine him appealing very much to Andy Warhol. Beck grew up on Long Island and rode his Ken-doll looks into a modeling career in Manhattan in the eighties. He worked for Armani before he met Gianni and Donatella, and took on a larger, more familial role in the court of Versace. He was their fit model and then became a kind of consultant; “like the pockets are too deep, that kind of thing,” he explains. “I’d start, like, the personal relationships. We did this T-shirt for Bruce Springsteen when he played the stadium in Torino. There were four different categories of staff with four different colored T-shirts, like acid green, orange, yellow, and black, that said SPRINGSTEEN on the front, VERSACE on the back. At that time, especially in Italy, those things were not happening.” It was a stroke of magic Versace inspiration to posit that fashion could be more than what the rock stars wore: Fashion people could be rock stars themselves. “These guys really did become friends with Gianni,” says Beck, with feeling. “Like Springsteen dedicated a song to us when he was in Torino.”

Beck goes on to a party Vogue is throwing, at which Santo Versace is already chatting with Rupert Everett, who wears head-to-toe gingham. He makes an appearance at a glittering GQ soiree held in Milan’s Humanitaria. Gardenias float in little candlelit pools, and everyone is getting drunk and waiting for Pharrell to perform. Finally, Beck heads to the Milan Stock Exchange, where Donatella is having her rehearsal.

“We are civilized people,” she says. She and Beck want to maintain a sense of family even though they are split. (But then, all the roles in the court of Versace are fluid, shifting.) “In the beginning, it was more difficult. But a while after you separate ... you get over whatever makes you separated.” She laughs. “I don’t think we could work in the same city together, though.”

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