Lou Eyrich is the costume designer behind The Assassination of Gianni Versace
It feels like we’ve been waiting a lifetime for this moment (or, at least since the show was announced at the beginning of last year), but tonight, The Assassination of Gianni Versace finally hits UK screens. The brainchild of Ryan Murphy, the man behind 2016’s The People vs. OJ Simpson, the series chronicles the lead up to – and aftermath of – the iconic Italian designer’s brutal murder at the hands of serial killer Andrew Cunanan on July 15, 1997.
Versace’s ostentatious collections were definitive of the late 80s and early 90s, epitomising the excessive glamour of the era, as he and sister Donatella jetted back and forth between lavish houses in Florida, New York and Italy. The moment he was gunned down, on the steps leading up to his Miami mansion, was a dark day for fashion: marking the end of an era of such levels of opulence within the industry, maximalism gave way to minimalism and the overstated became decidedly less so.
Central to the show, then, were the costumes worn by the cast. Step in American Horror Story and Glee costume designer Lou Eyrich, who was tasked with outfitting Donatella (Penelope Cruz), Gianni (Édgar Ramírez), Gianni’s boyfriend Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin), Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss), et al: a daunting task, given the designer’s formidable legacy. “It was hugely intimidating starting work on the show,” Eyright tells us over the phone from LA. “You know, I was such a fan of Gianni’s work and everything Donatella has done over the course of the last two decades, so of course there was some apprehension there. But it was also really exciting. He had such a distinct aesthetic and we had to kind of tread the line between being authentic to Versace and making it our own.”
Eyrich needn’t have worried. The show is a flamboyant visual feast for the eyes, as Donatella struts around the set in (fabulous and hugely-covetable) vintage Versace pieces, Gianni sweeps down the halls of his Miami home in luxurious Baroque-printed silk shorts and gowns, and Antonio lounges on the (Medusa-mosaiced) pool in some v barely-there logo pants. Ahead of The Assassination of Gianni Versace’s launch, we caught up with the costume designer to talk about the search for the perfect Versace pieces, the challenges she faced during production, and her favourite looks from the show.
How did you prepare in the time leading up to the show’s production?
Lou Eyrich: Well, I started by educating myself on the era and the style of the time beforehand, and I particularly studied Versace’s work in the 80s and 90s, you know the Baroque collection, and the pop art one too. For weeks and weeks I pored over every book I could get my hands on, not just from a fashion point of view, but from art and culture and everything that went with it; Versace’s collection of artworks, his houses, everything. Allison (Leach, co-costume designer) and I spent time at the Fashion Institute of Design in LA as well: they have a huge archive of Versace pieces that we studied prior to shooting. And, of course, the series is also about Andrew Cunanan’s life, so we needed to understand the era thoroughly to be able to dress him properly. There was a lot of trips to the library and late nights scouring the internet involved (laughs).
“It was fun for us to cover both ends of the scale, from Gianni, Donatella and Antonio’s fabulous looks, right through to Andrew’s more downtrodden, understated costumes” – Lou Eyrich
How was it working between two completely opposing styles simultaneously: the high-octane, OTT glamour of the Versaces and the more grungy, downbeat look Cunanan has?
Lou Eyrich: Well, you know, that’s what we do! We set out to tell a story through clothing and whether we have one aesthetic to cover, or 10, or 20, it’s part and parcel on the job. But working on American Crime Story was particularly daunting as we didn’t have as much time as I’d have liked to research. Pressure is good though, you have to live up to the challenge. So it was fun for us to cover both ends of the scale, from Gianni and Donatella and Antonio’s fabulous looks, right through to Andrew’s more downtrodden, understated costumes.
Going back to Versace, were there specific pieces you set out to find when you were creating Donatella and Gianni’s costumes?
Lou Eyrich: So some of the garments were scripted very specifically: there’s a point where Gianni was designing all of these Western-inspired pieces – the leather jeans, the leather shirts with the gold collar tips, and the heavy gold Medusa detailing – they were all part of the script, so really we had to find those. We searched the web for weeks to find some of the pieces. Some we managed to get on eBay, and we found a number of styles through private collectors that we got in touch with, including a few in LA, which was quite lucky. We managed to source a few original pieces and then have them replicated, which was great. It was important to Ryan for it to be authentic, and both Penelope and Edgar were both thrilled to be wearing pieces that were actually designed by their real-life counterparts.
The Versace family denounced the show early on in production. Were you a little disappointed that they’d declined to be involved with the show?
Lou Eyrich: Of course, I was a little disappointed they’d distanced themselves from it, but I never imagined they’d really be involved to be honest. It’s a story that must still carry a lot of hurt for them, and it was important for everyone involved that it would be handled sensitively. I wanted to make sure I represented the house of Versace as well as I possibly could, though, whether they were involved or not. If they did see it, I wanted them to be happy with the way it looked at least.
“I think what was most important was that Penelope was able to pull off Donatella’s silhouette and stance” – Lou Eyrich
Penelope Cruz has been lauded for her performance and capturing the essence of Donatella. Which look epitomises Donatella for you?
Lou Eyrich: My favourite was one that didn’t actually make it into the show! It was an authentic Versace shirt with this really bold baroque print from around 1994 and it was cut in the editing suite. But to be honest, I don’t know if I do have a favourite for her, actually. I think what was most important was that Penelope was able to pull off Donatella’s silhouette and stance. And so it was more about finding the right corsets and shapewear to help her transform into Donatella. We went to Agent Provocateur, we went to trashy lingerie stores, we had some made for her. But key to Penelope’s portrayal was the silhouette, definitely.
Did Penelope have a lot of input when it came to costumes? She’s friends with Donatella in real life, so I imagine she must have felt a lot of responsibility on her shoulders...
Lou Eyrich: She did have a lot of input, yeah, and she definitely felt a lot of responsibility to portray Donatella in the best possible light. So we worked closely with her to ensure the garments had the highest level of respect and precision that they could have. Very early on, Allison flew out to Madrid to fit Penelope for the first time, and she put on the clothes and just slipped into character, like, she was Donatella! She was very instrumental in making sure everything was just right, which really helped us out.
Did Penelope wear anything other than Versace?
Lou Eyrich: For the most part, she wore Versace, like Donatella herself did. But there were a few pieces in there that weren’t: a couple of Alaïa dresses, a Dolce & Gabbana corset, and I think one of the pairs of studded leather pants was vintage. Mainly we tried to stick to Versace, though.
Is there anything you would have done differently? Any pieces that you’d have loved to get your hands on?
Lou Eyrich: I wish I’d had a little more prep time to really thoroughly study Gianni and Donatella, and really been able to get to grips with their relationship and the essence of their being. But that’s television, you know, you only get a few weeks to put it all together. I would have loved to have been able to go into all the Haute Couture work, and maybe visit the atelier if I’d been allowed to. But we just didn’t have the time or the resources to do that.
What did you think when you saw the show for the first time?
Lou Eyrich: Oh, of course, I picked everything apart (laughs). But overall, on the whole, I think it looks beautiful. There’s always something you wish you’d done differently, or something you think you missed. That said, I’m very proud of the team that worked to create the show, and helped Ryan (Murphy) realise his vision. It’s a beautiful show and I’m so happy we all pulled it off.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story starts on February 28 at 9pm on BBC 2 and BBC iPlayer.