Versace puts the "V" in va-va-voom. Founded in Milan in 1978 by Gianni Versace, who apprenticed at his mother's dressmaking shop—and run by his sister, Donatella, since his 1997 death—Versace is Italy's numero uno bastion of sexy, more-is-more, curve-hugging gowns. From the signature chain-mail dress Gianni debuted in the early eighties to Elizabeth Hurley's flesh-baring safety-pin number, it has long been the house of choice for red-carpet sirens who demand a theatrical entrance. (Think J. Lo at the 2000 Grammys in the jungle green Hawaiian-print dress with a neckline that plunged below her navel.)
The drama at Versace isn't limited to the clothes. Since the murder of its founder on the steps of his Miami Beach mansion, the label has seen its share of ups and downs. Donatella took over the creative direction, but typical of the intrigue that surrounds this house was the matter of Gianni's will. It entitled Donatella's daughter, Allegra—only 11 at the time—to 50 percent of the Versace empire upon her 18th birthday. Donatella inherited only 20 percent, while her older brother, Santo, received 30. Donatella has struggled with addiction, entering rehab in Arizona in 2004, while Allegra has been treated for anorexia.
Everyone likes a great comeback story, though. Donatella has cleaned up her act and triumphed on the runway. Emerging from the shadow of Gianni, she has been applauded by the industry, initially for her blinged-out super-glam looks and more recently for a surprising new restraint and focus on structure.
In addition to the ready-to-wear collection, Versace produces a couture line, Atelier Versace; the diffusion lines Versace Collection, Versace Sport, Versace Jeans Couture, and Versus; as well as jewelry, accessories, fragrance, cosmetics, and furniture. In 2000, a branded hotel, Palazzo Versace, opened on the Australian Gold Coast.