Italy's fashion mecca honours Versace decade after murder

ROME, July 14, 2007 (AFP) - Ten years to the day after his murder at the age of 51, Italy's fashion capital will pay tribute to Gianni Versace on Sunday, July 15th with a glittering ballet performance at Milan's La Scala opera house.


Gianni Versace and Maurice Béjart in 1997 - Photo : Giuseppe Farinacci/AFP

Hundreds of guests including the late star designer's favourite supermodels are expected at the show choreographed by France's Maurice Bejart, with whom Versace collaborated for more than a decade.

"It is the most beautiful gift I could do for him," said Donatella, his sister and muse who took over the Versace design reins after his death and was the driving force behind Sunday's tribute.

"He was a genius and a simple exhibition of his designs would have been banal... Fashion wasn't enough for him, he also loved art, music, history and dance," the designer told reporters.

Bejart, 80, known internationally for his career as a dancer, choreographer and opera director, was due in the northern Italian city late Friday to oversee the final preparations for the show.

Entitled "Grazie Gianni, con amore" (Thank you Gianni, with love), the performance is a mix of the dozen ballets created by Bejart with costumes by Versace, a working relationship that dated from 1984 until the Italian's tragic death.

Shortly after his death, Bejart described Versace as a "true artisan" and "genius designer" who he said was like the "great creators of the Renaissance always on a quest for novelty and beauty".

Fashion A-listers such as British actress and model Liz Hurley, former super model Claudia Schiffer and Chanel's veteran designer Karl Lagerfeld are expected to bring a heavy dose of glamour to the Milan show.

Hurley memorably stole the show when she attended the premiere of the 1994 film "Four Weddings and a Funeral" in a sexy, safety-pin-held Versace "little black dress".

"This will be a moving evening but difficult because the last time I saw Gianni alive it was with Bejart in Florence for the 'Barroco-Bel Canto' ballet" in June 1997, Donatella Versace said.

Gianni Versace, known for his glamorous and sexy outfits for the leading luxury label, was killed in Miami Beach on July 15, 1997 by Andrew Cunanan who committed suicide several days later.

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera likened the impact of his murder to the deaths of John F. Kennedy, John Lennon or Princess Diana, saying Thursday that "everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news".

In September, when Milan hosts its fashion week, an exhibition entitled "Myths, gods and heroes according to Versace" is planned with about 70 works of art dating from 700 to 1996 which belonged to the late designer.

The Milan authorities also want to name a road or park after Versace, and are looking for a place in the city that could "bear witness to what Gianni Versace brought to Milan".

by Francoise Michel

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