Donatella Versace Has Long Been a Gay Icon. Now It’s Official.


Donatella Versace said she hasn’t seen a movie since “A Star Is Born” last year. She’s hooked on the HBO series “Big Little Lies,” devoured Netflix’s “The Society” and has a new favorite book: “The Mueller Report.”

Ms. Versace had trouble understanding parts of the conclusions and findings of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. She keeps underlining things, wondering (as she often does) whether her English is getting in the way.

But, she said of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, “There’s something about lawmen I find fascinating. You look at him and know he’s telling the truth.”

And, she admitted, “he is good-looking.”

“Ugh,” she added. “Don’t print this. I’ll lose my visa.”

It was Thursday afternoon, and Ms. Versace was perched on a sofa in the gilded Versace-esque Midtown Manhattan hotel suite where she is staying while in town as a Stonewall Ambassador.

In 2015, 18 years after Gianni’s death, Madonna returned for another campaign. This time she paid tribute to boardroom Donatella, licking envelopes and putting her feet up on the desk as she tapped away at an Apple computer.

What is true power in fashion if not the ability to hire one of the world’s biggest celebrities to impersonate you?

Anyway, other people do it for free.

Ms. Versace can barely step outside without having a drag queen approach to thank her for providing them with inspiration. Ms. Versace attributes this in part to her “acceptance” of other people, who know instinctually they can walk up to her and that she’ll be nice. “I say, ‘Hi, I’m Donatella,’ and they go, ‘Aaaah!’” she said.

But it’s her appearance, too. “The hair and make up and clothes,” she said. “I do not blend.”

Gianni was the one who set her on the path.

When she was 11, he told her two important things: that he was gay and that she needed to become a blonde. Once she acquiesced to his wishes, their history together was secured. After it became clear that being gay was an impediment to having a life in Calabria, Italy, he moved to Milan. She followed him there.

In the 1980s, fashion was a business in which gay men could work with a fair amount of acceptance. But living life openly still wasn’t easy. “Our father was a very distant man,” Ms. Versace said.

So Gianni never came out to him.

When Gianni was alive, he and Donatella went to gay nights at big clubs. “Palladium, and what’s the one in the church?” Ms. Versace said, referring to Limelight.

After his death in 1997, Ms. Versace took over the company and became the unapologetic maven of Italian opulence.

Ms. Versace put her in a campaign.

Even in rehab, where Ms. Versace went in 2004 to deal with a cocaine problem, her biggest complaint was about wardrobe. “I said, ‘The only thing I miss are my high heels,’” said Ms. Versace, sober ever since.

She didn’t love that Ryan Murphy chose last year to revisit the past in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” So she hasn’t seen Penélope Cruz play her. Ms. Versace said there are some “errors” in the show but offered no specifics as to what they were.

“I know what happened,” she said. (The show, a limited series for FX, won seven Emmys and two Golden Globes.)

In person these days, Ms. Versace’s act is considerably toned down.

The tan has gotten less pronounced, and her famous hair goes just about to her shoulders. Even the cigarettes are gone. “Two packs of Marlboros a day,” she said.



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