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The shocking murder of Gianni Versace, one of the world’s most influential and successful designers, on July 15, 1997 reverberated around the globe. The 50-year-old Versace was gunned down in broad daylight on the steps of his South Beach estate by Andrew Cunanan, who eight days later was found dead on a houseboat in Miami Beach of a self-inflicted gun shot.
A master showman, Versace’s fashion credo was all about glitz, glamour, hype, youth, sex and fun. In an interview with WWD in 1990, Versace spoke about his philosophy of life: “It took me my whole life, 44 years, to be as I am now—free. I never put my face down or am ashamed. The only joy I have is my own work and my life, and I must play until I die. If I don’t play anymore, I’m afraid I’ll become like the others.”
Versace attracted an A-list following of celebrity friends and clients ranging from Madonna, Princess Diana and Elizabeth Hurley to Elton John, Sting and Elizabeth Taylor. He was also the force behind a global enterprise that generated more than $1 billion in worldwide sales and controlled more than 300 boutiques.
Friends and colleagues from royalty to rock stars reflected on his singular vision of glamour and sexiness that defined his fashion, as well as his generosity and warmth. “Gianni Versace, together with a handful of names, symbolizes the success of Italian fashion all over the world. My reaction is one of revolt against such a unnatural and violent death and one of profound grief,” Giorgio Armani told WWD. While Versace’s brother Santo continued as the business force behind the Versace name, the spotlight then fell on his sister Donatella to assume the creative reins of the house. Per the designer’s will, his niece Allegra Beck, then 11, whom he called “my little princess” was bequeathed a 50 percent stake in the fashion house.