Storyville: Fashion Victim

Thursday, August 30, 2001 by

Those expecting the ususal fawning, “it’s a tragedy he’s dead” style tribute to fashion designer Gianni Versace, would have been in for a surprise had they watched this excellent film from James Kent. This was no documentary about the merits of Versace’s work or of how sorely he will be missed by fashion’s glitterati, and it was far from the kind of clich├ęd offering that ITV or Channel 5 may have given us on the subject. There was no “kiss and tell”, no “who shot Versace?” attempt at investigation. Here was a quality programme which was well researched, including rare footage of the designer’s last show before he was killed. It was an intelligent and subtle film which slowly but surely gathered momentum as it progressed.

During the course of the film, we were given background information on how the Versace family created its own heritage, belying the truth that Gianni, his sister Donatella and brother Santo, were really the offspring of shop keepers and not the Italian aristocrats they portrayed themselves to be. In the world of fashion, it came as no shock to realise that nothing was as it seemed and with a “marketing” budget of $70m, celebrities ad supermodels were easily bought. As the film showed, millions were spent on encouraging celebs to attend Versace shows and parties, with no whim considered too extravagant, to ensure that the Versace brand remained high profile and visible at all times.

The programme benefited from some candid and revealing interviews with such “talking heads” as Joan Buck, Editor of French Vogue, who declared that in a world of aspiration and consumerism, fashion magazines should be renamed “longing magazines”. Other fashion designers were also featured, including a frank and affable Alexander McQueen and John Galliano who was trying just a little bit too hard to appear the Eccentric English Gent and instead appeared the sycophantic queen. How could we take a man wearing a fedora hat and hair clips seriously? Especially when all he had to offer was that Donatella (who looks more like a mutant turtle every day), was “a lovely woman”? Malcolm Mclaren also made an appearance, and his dramatic and witty descriptions of the Versace family and their orgiastic lifestyle suited the film perfectly.

The film highlighted a significant cultural fact: that the world of glamour, sex and celebrity once generated and maintained by Hollywood, was no longer the domain of the film star, but was now dominated by fashion, models and celebrities who wanted to appear fashionable but had no style.

Versace’s killer Andrew Cunanan was portrayed as as a desperate individual whose sense of self depended on material possessions and an image he had created for himself as a rich gigolo who became a celebrity by proxy. As Versace’s clothes were about theatre, sex, escape and entertainment, it somehow made a sick kind of sense that oddball drop-out Cunanan would be attracted to such a figure. If Versace himself hadn’t mistaken his killer for a young acquaintance, and if Cunanan hadn’t kept up the pretence by meeting him on several occasions, the designer might still be alive today. But in our celebrity-sick times, and in the strange world of Andrew Cunanan, one sure way for a nobody to become a somebody is by killing a famous person. With Versace now a world famous brand, Cunanan chose his victim for maximum media exposure. It was in this way, like Mark Chapman before him, that he made his pathetic mark on the world. The real “fashion victim” of the story was not Versace himself, but his long term partner Antonio D’Amico who was effectively banished from “the family” after his death.

With taut direction, excellent photography, a fitting soundtrack and understated narration, this was just the kind of quality film we have come to expect from BBC2′s Storyville.


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