Fashion world mourns the loss of a prince
'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."
"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.
"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:
Reuters contributed to this report.
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