MIAMI BEACH, Fla., July 15 -- Celebrity designer Gianni Versace (JOHN'-nee vuhr-SAH'-chee) was one of the century's most noted fashion personalities. He was 50 when a gunman's bullet ended his life today. Versace, lord of a $350 million fashion empire, supplied a who's who of international stars with exclusive outfits and also dressed the less well-heeled with ready-to-wear lines. Versace died of two gunshot wounds to the back of the head. Authorities said he was shot to death shortly after arriving home from one of his haunts -- 'The News Cafe' on famed South Beach, where he bought an Italian newspaper. Born Dec. 2, 1946 in Reggio Calabria in southern Italy, he was a tailor's son who would become the leading name in fashion not by design but by chance -- enhanced with more than a little talent. He was working with his mother at a clothing store in his hometown and end of season garments just weren't moving. So Versace sketched some specialty items and had them produced in a nearby province, at a time when 'Made in Italy' lines were just becoming popular. In the summer of 1971, when Versace was 25, his designs came to the attention of Ezio Nicosia, owner of the Florentine Flowers clothing mill in Lucca, who had a backlog of ready-made garments. One of his salesmen told him about the young man who moved excess inventory by designing specialty wear that drew people into the shop. Nicosia asked Versace to design 'instant' clothes to bolster the existing collection languishing on the racks, and the 'instant' garments were so successful Florentine Flowers rewarded him with a Volkswagen convertible.
The following year, Versace settled in Milan, the heart of the Italian fashion industry, and from that point he never stopped designing. 'When you enjoy life, you can do lots of things,' he once said. 'People who don't do nothing, they are lazy, they are stupid. People who complain all the time are boring.' In 1972, Versace decided to go into the design business for himself, with his brother Santo and his sister Donatella. The following year he produced a line of leather goods. His first collection bearing the Versace name was produced in 1978, followed by a men's collection a year later. By the 1980s, Versace and fellow designer Giorgio Amani were considered the mainstays of Italian fashion. Versace was known for his flamboyant styles for both men and women, and his fashion shows featured rock music. Versace's designs were worn by a veritable who's who, capturing the fashion world from royalty to rock'n'roll. Britain's Princess Diana considered him a dear friend, as did supermodel Elizabeth Hurley, who set the fashion world on its ear by wearing a Versace black dress fastened with gold safety pins to the opening of boyfriend Hugh Grant's movie 'Four Weddings and a Funeral.' At his debut of his winter collection in Milan last March, Versace toned down his style, taking his models off the runway and letting them walk close to the audience. 'I'm moving more into the reality of things,' Versace said at the time. 'It's time to step back and show clothes.' Versace designs were also worn by Julie Andrews, Kim Basinger, Candice Bergen, Jacqueline Bisset, Jeff Bridges, Cher, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Cindy Crawford, Monaco's Princess Caroline, Bob Dylan, Jane Fonda, Boy George, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Taylor and boxer Mike Tyson. Versace had homes in New York and Italy, in addition to the mansion in the South Beach section of Miami Beach. Versace bought the house for $2.9 million. ---
Copyright 1997 by United Press International. All rights reserved. ---