I can barely Donatella them apart!
In 1955, Francesca Versace, a Calabrian seamstress, ashed the final embers of her cigarette into a bucket of peroxide. As the liquid began to churn and noxious gases arose, a blonde, kohl-smudged avatar appeared, one Francesca would later take in as her own, naming her Donatella. Or so the legend goes. With her platinum tresses and smokey drawl, Donatella would codify the cold-blooded stylista that has become one of fashion’s most enduring archetypes. Even Lady Gaga would sing of it – “Check out / I’m blonde / I’m skinny / I’m rich / and I’m a little bit of a bitch”. The trope was never lost on Donatella, though – it was of her own making, after all – but it does belie a real tenderness and generosity that has positioned the designer as a figure of unanimous adoration.
“She’s not afraid to laugh at herself or have a bit of fun,” says Daniel Bosco, a final year student at Parsons Paris. “Everyone wants her to be this huge diva but in reality she’s so genuine and caring.” Bosco knows this because last week he stood in front of Donatella, showcasing a dress with her own face blown-up to grotesque proportions, framed in bottle-bleached extensions and pink Medusa clips. “The first thing she did was laugh. She immediately stood up from her chair and wanted to touch the dress and play with the hair. I just wanted to give her time to get close and appreciate the dress for what it was – a love letter.” Tasked by the fashion school and Versace with creating a look based on two archival pieces – one by Gianni and the other Donatella – Bosco looked to Gianni’s SS91 Warholian showstoppers and Donatella’s self-curation. “I wanted to create something kitsch and in your face using the brand’s iconography. And I mean, what’s more Versace than Donatella and her iconic blonde hair?”
It was a risky move, though. “Presenting Donatella to Donatella could have inspired love or hate, but she was so flattered.” Having previously transformed rotting windows, table settings, and exhaust vents into wearable sculptures, Bosco’s work leans towards “strange materiality and a sense of artificial reality,” and he had been warned against using synthetic hair for that very reason. “But I’m stubborn, and at the end of the day, this was an homage her.” He admits he still keeps a couple of Frankensteined iterations of the designer railed-up in his studio – alongside Madonna, Naomi, Linda Evangelista, and Ève Salvai – but, as he is quick to point out, “it was Donatella who was Gianni’s original muse. She's emblematic of the Medusa, the supermodel, the warrior goddess, and the pop culture icon. Personally it goes beyond Versace, too, she is an icon to both the fashion and queer community.”
From Jonathan Anderson, to Daniel Roseberry, to Puppets and Puppets, the look chimes with a wider movement in fashion where humour is being used to contest norms surrounding taste and acceptability. “I think the point of my work is to elicit a reaction. Irony is hard to tackle in fashion, though, because it can so easily come off as unauthentic, but when it works it really works.” For Bosco, being funny is the hard-won benefit of growing-up in a chaotic Italian-Canadian family where he had to “shout to be heard”. “I’m always looking at the characters in my family – the gossiping aunties with crooked wigs, the nonnas in fur coats during the summer, my mum’s affinity for head-to-toe cheetah print – it was all so funny and outrageous. I guess the goal of my work is to create a world where we can laugh at ourselves and just enjoy the reactions of others, rather than worry about them.”
It’s easy to map those experiences onto the obscene, in-your-face-ness of Bosco’s practice. “Humour is an amazing tool to start conversations about ourselves and about our clothes,” he says. As for cloning Donatella in cloth, it was the “total peak” of his career thus far. “She gave me some great advice, too, telling me not to forget to have fun and to keep bringing my own sense of humour into my designs.” That all got a bit Dorian Gray, though, once Donatella asked to hang the piece in her house. “Yeah, I will for sure never shut up about that.”