Rewind to 1993, the year Donatella Versace shook up New York with her safety pin heavy debut collection for Versus. It may have been the decade of minimalism, but for Donatella this was “[her] time of rebellion, [her] time of provocation and [her] time of daring.” Versus, Versace’s younger sister line, was about to set off a new wave of electricity under the direction of the woman who claims she's simply “punk in the soul.”
In East London that year, 18-year-old Mathangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam was stomping the area’s markets, blasting her hip-hop fuelled Walkman as she cruised past stalls bursting with counterfeit Versace. One wouldn’t have guessed that two decades later, Maya – better known as M.I.A – would join forces with the brand for a Versus capsule collection inspired by those same Versace knock-offs.
The collection itself sees kaleidoscopic mash ups of iconic Versace emblems cast across both menswear and womenswear. “Versace designs have always been bootlegged, now it’s Versace bootlegging the bootleg for the bootleggers to bootleg the bootleg,” explains M.I.A. The singer has roots in design herself, having studied visual arts at Central Saint Martins in the late 90s and collaborating on the design of her her own glitchy album artwork.
Bootlegging has often been the subject of M.I.A.’s music, as have so many other cultural and political issues. Arular settled like a mushroom cloud over the international music sphere in 2005 with its themes of conflict and revolution, from the title – a code used by her father while involved with Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups – to her sound which is a volatile mix of grime, dancehall rhythms and Rio’s baile funk. It’s a combination she’s continues to push on recent singles “Bad Girls” and “Bring The Noize” taken from her forthcoming album Matangi, out November 5.
That same radical spirit charged through Donatella Versace’s first Versus collection and continued to surge through the label in the ‘90s and all the way to 2013. If this collaboration echoes one thing, it’s Donatella and Maya’s shared understanding of pop culture as the most powerful broadcaster of ideas. Today we see a newly revamped Versus still changing fashion’s rules, putting provocation before custom. And if the subjects of M.I.A.’s film clips, from ‘drifting’ Middle Eastern women in Bad Girls to ginger genocide in Born Free, suggest anything it’s that she will continue to do the same. There’s nothing more powerful than intersecting creativity.