CNN logo
US navbar

Infoseek/Big Yellow

Pathfinder/Warner Bros

Barnes and Noble

Main banner

Fashion world mourns the loss of a prince

Gianni Versace

'There was a sword of Damocles over his soul'

July 15, 1997
Web posted at: 7:53 p.m. EDT (2353 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The shocking death of designer Gianni Versace stopped the fashion world in its tracks Tuesday as friends and business rivals struggled to make sense of their loss.

"The news of Gianni Versace's death has left me in a state of shock," said Italian designer Giorgio Armani. "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 an unnatural and violent death, and one of profound grief."

CNN's Elsa Klensch looks back at Versace the designer and his legacy
icon 2 min., 17 sec. VXtreme video

"There are no words to describe how I feel right now," said designer Gianfranco Ferre. "What happened is absurd, unexplainable, terrible ... I feel only infinite pain."

The smiling, silver-haired Versace was a prince of the fashion world, an institution at shows in Milan, London, Paris and New York and a symbol of haute couture.

News that the 50-year-old designer had been shot to death in front of his Miami Beach villa caused the cancellation in Rome of a glamorous fashion gala that was to have marked the end of a week of shows.

Fashion journalists react to Versace's death

Bewildered, teary-eyed models stopped their fittings while Versace's peers and clients searched for words to convey their sorrow and dismay.

"It's incredible news," said Nicola Trussardi, a top designer from Versace's native Italy. "There's absolute disbelief here and we're deeply upset."

Versace headquarters in Milan shuttered

In Milan, the spiritual home of Italian high fashion, the shutters were closed at the neoclassical palazzo that is the Versace headquarters. His sister Donatella and brother Santo, both of whom are involved in the business, left the city in a private jet bound for Miami.

"The shock of this tragedy devastates me," said Valentino, another of Italy's leading designers. "I can't believe he's not still with us."

In New York, employees at Versace's Manhattan boutiques were stunned by the news of his death, and spoke of him fondly.

"He would shake the hand of all the employees to say hi," said Paola Sermidi, a native of Milan who had worked in Versace's Fifth Avenue store for two years.

Donna Karan

"He was very laid back," she said. "He was a really nice person, very down to earth."

New York designer Donna Karan said Versace "combined the spirit of America with the sophistication of Europe." She noted that he was known as a risk-taker in his designs, and that he was the first to mix fashion with rock 'n' roll and Hollywood.

"The loss of Gianni Versace is deeply felt by all," Karan said. "I am personally devastated by his death."

'I'm stunned and lost for words'

American designer Calvin Klein said the fashion world "has lost one of the great designers of our time."

Princess Diana of Britain, who has worn Versace designs, issued a statement from the South of France where she is on vacation, saying, "I am devastated by the loss of a great and talented man."

Versace named a handbag after the princess, but their relationship had been strained lately, after she pulled out of a book venture with Versace.

Supermodel Kate Moss, who is working in Jamaica, issued a statement through her agent in London, saying, "I'm stunned and lost for words."

Noting that Versace had had cancer and had recently overcome serious illness, Armani praised his "dignity, embracing life with energy and a tremendous desire to accomplish things."

Saying "Gianni was a friend," Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli saw things in the designer that others missed.

"Italy and the world have lost a stylist," Zeffirelli said, "but I have lost a dear person. I knew of the slight melancholy that existed beneath his image of vitality, of energy.

"There was a sword of Damocles hanging over his soul. The tragic manner of his death seems almost like an atrocious fulfillment of his destiny."

'When will it end?'

In Los Angeles, musician and Oscar-awards show producer Quincy Jones said he was shocked at Versace's death.

"Music and fashion are the two art forms which, more than any other, dictate and reflect what is happening in the world culturally. As a designer, Gianni was completely aware of that correlation.

"Again we wake to find that we have had a great artist and friend tragically taken away from us. When will it end?"

Other comments on Versace's death:

Todd Oldham
  • "The people that had the pleasure to meet him personally would remember his generosity and kindness, and smiling. The people that just got to appreciate his beautiful designs will forever be influenced by the carefree attitude that he approached with such pure integrity. It is a very, very sad loss for our industry."
    icon(288K/21 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

    -- American designer Todd Oldham

  • "I am devastated to have lost one of my closest friends, who I loved so much and who I had been so looking forward to seeing again on holiday very soon.

    "We were so very close that it's like a large part of my life has died with him. I'm in deep shock at the news -- it really hasn't sunk in yet.

    "I feel so sorry for all of Gianni's family. The world has lost a wonderful creative genius, and I have lost a very dear friend."

    -- Pop star Elton John

  • "Just the other day, I bumped into Gianni in front of the Ritz in Paris. He was laughing, enjoying life and the beautiful things that surrounded him and that were a part of him -- an eclectic mix that created the Versace style that will not be easily forgotten. Today, the shock and tragedy of what has happened is overwhelming, and it is hard to believe that he is no longer among us."

    -- Designer Valentino

Reuters contributed to this report.

CNN Plus

Related stories:

Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Search for related CNN stories:
Tip: You can restrict your search to the title of a document. Infoseek grfk

Example: title:New Year's Resolutions

Message Boards

Sound off on our message boards

Tell us what you think!

You said it...
To the top

© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.