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Nudes with Versace Scarf. Richard Avedon.Justin Blyth

Closer to God

A look at how Greek mythology continues to be ubiquitous in fashion, music and art

"Versace. Versace. Medusa head on me like I'm 'luminate. This is a gated community, please get the fuck off the property."

-Drake/Migos - Versace 2013

Men need gods. To think that chaos and chance are the only controlling forces in our lives is too much for the mind to bear. The first Greek civilizations created a complex pantheon of deities for many purposes. Myth, Temple, Gods and Goddesses were an integral part of life, which revolved around these deities in every ritual from cups to coins to sex. We all read about Greek culture in our textbooks in school and brush it off as ancient history, but Greek ingenuity, mythology and symbolism also play a ubiquitous role in our modern lives. From modern democracy and government, to Nike, Hermes, Versace. Versace Versace. 

Medusa, the Greek mythological monster was a hideous female with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Gazing directly upon her would turn onlookers to stone. A woman who was transformed into a monster after offending the gods. She was punished for allowing the god Poseidon to seduce and rape her in the temple of the goddess Aphrodite. Her hair, which had once been her most glorified attribute, was turned into snakes. She was beheaded by Perseus who thereafter used her head as a weapon, until it was given to Athena to place on her shield. In classical antiquity the image of the head of Medusa appeared on many evil-averting devices. Only later during the Roman period was she considered beautiful.

Perhaps this is not something we would usually associate with a major fashion house; a woman so ugly she can turn you to stone. It is with the later, beautiful representations of Medusa that the Versace logo is associated with. She evokes attractiveness and fatal fascination. Today the image of Medusa is synonymous with class and wealth.  Gianni Versace was intensely interested in Greek mythology and had a fascination with classical art and architecture. He himself was from Southern Italy, which still has in many ways, a close association with Greece. The Medusa insignia with the Greek key is an allusion to the classical world that all people understand. The 'key' design; a continuous line shaped into a repeated motif, is believed to be a symbol of infinity and often appeared in sacred Greek spaces such as temples and tombs. In fact many of the designer's collections alluded to the countless stories of Grecian Deities from Hercules to Zeus and beyond. These are particularly visible in the loud and vibrant patterns from the 1980's House of Versace fabrics used on jackets, scarves, dresses and beyond; all much-coveted items in todays pop culture. Throughout history luxurious clothing, wealth and divinity have been closely intertwined. Perhaps the use of this imagery in high fashion alludes to a time when the price of your garments determines not only your class and wealth but also your proximity to godliness. In many societies it was thought that the correct wardrobe could in fact bring you closer to god. Like Medusa, beheaded by Perseus, Gianni Versace met a violent end at the steps of his South Beach estate where he was shot in the head by spree-killer Andrew Cunanan in 1997. 

Today we see this imagery everywhere in contemporary design and fashion. From warped ionic columns and classical Greek sculptures in graphic design, to modern art, to Kanye West videos, 'Luxury Rap' and beyond. Gold links and Fendi logos and other luxury symbols often mimic these classic Greek shapes. Nike, in Greek Mythology, was a Winged goddess who personified victory. A friend of Nike CEO Phil Knight's friend claims the name came to him in a dream for the footwear company, before they paid Carolyn Davidson a $35 commission to design a logo now known as the Nike swoosh. These tidbits of classical Greek art, architecture and mythological symbolism pervade our life, driving our fascinations and desires for wealth in ways that we may not consciously realize or understand.