Cannes’ famed Boulevard de la Croisette is always chaos during the film festival, but Donatella Versace thrives on the buzz and chose the bustling city as the location to debut her high summer collection, codesigned with singer Dua Lipa.
The “La Vacanza” collection is dedicated to all things escapist and enjoyable. Speaking to WWD ahead of the big reveal, Lipa and Versace bubbled with giddy excitement.
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“So what is more fun than the South of France when a bunch of people are around being flirty and sexy?” mused the Italian designer.
“We wanted to do it in a place where it was the busiest time of year. We felt like the ideas behind the collection would really shine through here because it has that fun energy,” added Lipa.
The two set the scene in the hills high above the main action, at a sprawling villa overlooking the Mediterranean. Models including Iris Law, Lila Moss and Amelia Gray walked on an acrylic runway placed over the pool, appearing as if they were walking on water.
Versace pivoted from her massive fall 2023 ready-to-wear Los Angeles show in March, held days before the Oscars, opting here for an intimate guest list of just 60. The guest list was both low key and high profile — including K-pop star Hyunjin from Stray Kids, French designer Simon Porte Jacquemus and American rapper Future — but there was no glitzy front row. Instead, guests were seated at dainty white tables dappled poolside, with an announcer narrating looks as they hit the catwalk.
The atmosphere was intended to create a classic salon-style gravitas about it, but the show was decidedly modern as it was broadcast live on the brand’s social channels.
The idea for the collection came from conversations, as Lipa and Versace have formed a friendship. It started back in 2018 when Lipa wore a black Versace dress to the Brit Awards, and grew as she fronted campaigns for the house and walked in the spring 2022 show.
“I was shocked because she was so sure of herself,” Versace said of dressing the performer at the time. “Strong, gorgeous, and she knew what she wanted, with a lot of people telling her ‘wear this.’ She’s a woman that my brother [Gianni] would go crazy for: strong, opinionated, and she stands up for herself.”
The brand was one of the first to support the then up-and-coming Lipa. “I was so nervous, but the clothes gave me so much confidence,” she said of taking the stage that night. “We’re friends, and now it feels like more than that.”
Versace sees a bit of her younger self in Lipa. “There’s that determination and the loyalty. She’s a loyal person, not only with me, but she’s true to herself.”
The idea of the collection had been percolating for months. When the decision was made to move forward, Lipa was in Tokyo and immediately started sketching out ideas. Versace and her team turned them into patterns, and created a story around Lipa’s ideas.
“I don’t think I can draw at all, but they can take the little sketches and turn them into dreams come true,” Lipa said.
The two went through archive photos together, and pulled images from Versace’s early days. Pictures of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell in shimmery slipdresses embellished with butterflies, stills from the 1995 runway show and even a few photos of Lipa.
A campaign featuring Nadja Auermann, Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Stephanie Seymour clad in metallic micro-minis and matching turtlenecks, shot by Richard Avedon in 1994, became a touchstone for the collection.
The metallics are carried through in similar miniskirts, cowboy boots and handbags. Handbags and accessories are intentionally a main focus of the collection, as the brand has been clear about its intention to expand the category from 35 percent to 60 percent of revenues following its acquisition by Capri Holdings.
They are an easy entry point to the brand for younger clients who have discovered the label through social media, but the brand is careful to clarify that it is not diffusion and remains at the same price point. Old Versace is popular on TikTok and other platforms, and kids who weren’t born when the original collections were on the runway are now fans of the brand’s designs.
For a fresh take on prints, they mixed two archival patterns positioning polka dots and butterflies in a new iteration. “We started from the Versace codes, and we try to evolve. If you see it with a different eye, the codes are still relevant,” Versace said.
Butterflies are a theme throughout the collection, not only as a throwback to ’90s style but also as a personal talisman.
“The butterflies have a very important meaning because they remind me of my brother, because a butterfly flying is freedom and he was so into that,” Versace said. “It’s in my life because Gianni is still relevant today.”
Versace said she does not look at the archives, which span 30-plus years of styles, for the brand’s regular collections, instead trying to keep her ideas fresh and inspired by now.
“Of course the heritage has brought it to this point, but Donatella has carried it to a place where it just constantly keeps evolving,” Lipa said of the brand.
But reaching back felt right for the spirit of this collection, themed around vacation and having fun. Pastels matched the Mediterranean light in azure blue and sunset pinks. Terry cloth was a main textile here, interpreted in coordinating ensembles of shorts, button downs and bucket hats for men; miniskirts, tanks and bathrobe jackets for women.
Looks were styled with the biggest bouffants this side of the 1960s. Miniskirts were ’90s-does-’60s. Irina Shayk walked in a dress with a low-cut draped back, exposing her “whale tail” thong — very early 2000s. The collection pulled from all decades, in decidedly pop colors, a departure from Versace’s dark, almost goth, recent collections.
Versace noted that despite the tight guest list, millions would be able to watch online and the see now, buy now collection will be available in stores worldwide the day after the show. “It’s business, because it’s a business, but it’s also entertainment. Everything is entertainment today, but there has to be a solid basis to not let the entertainment take over what you do,” she said.
New chief executive officer Emmanuel Gintzburger was seated front row, a reminder of the company’s growth ambitions under Capri.
The duo emphasized that Lipa was heavily involved in the design process, and that it is not simply a celebrity branding exercise. At runthroughs the day before the show, Lipa was checking the models’ looks, demonstrating how they should strut on the catwalk and taking an active role coordinating the show and styling.
The looks were polished party girl, perfectly social media ready for the generation weaned on Instagram and dopamine dressing. While the 1995 collection was an inspiration, it’s also the same year Lipa was born. This collection is for the new generation to relive some of Versace’s greatest hits.
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