Unlike Cathy Horyn, I have never been to a Versace fashion show. I have never lounged poolside with Donatella as her children frolicked with mine. And most significantly, I was not flown to Miami by Graydon Carter to chase leads the moment the news broke that Gianni Versace had been murdered. Nonetheless, I remember viscerally where I was the moment Iearned of the killing, and the feelings that overtook me. On July 15, 1997 I was 13 years old, spending my first summer participating in a summer program I'll just call "nerd camp" and probably wearing some sort of giant T-shirt and capri pants ensemble purchased at Old Navy.
But as it happened, I was in the throes of fixing my nerdiness on a wholly new obsession: fashion magazines. I was gangly, and introverted, but suddenly, surrounded by other gangly introverts that didn't seem so shameful. For the first time, in fact, I was able to see myself as something other than a mere nerd. I could be a vaguely stylish nerd. But more than that, I could start to see clothes as something other than a caste system, and Versace was a testament to that. It wasn't the sort of label a 13-year old nerd — or a 23-year-old nerd — wants to aquire for oneself. (I've never purchased anything Versace because, well, duh.) But it did represent something fun, and vibrant, and almost wholesome in its decadence. Versace seemed above the fashion editor fray — it had a whimsical irrelevant spirit, an unabashedly explosive color palette, a version of sexuality so amplified that it was almost camp. (Well, "almost" is debatable.) And it never seemed afraid to laugh — at itself, at life. Versace was so celebatory, so liberating — to me it represented what fashion was at its very best, even if its aesthetic was worlds away from the black-on-black-on black uniform I started sporting around then and still live in. Versace made fashion look like nothing but carefree fun — it was like the very best game of dress-up. If you live in suburban Atlanta, can anything seem more fabulous than a life where one might be able to where a giant safety pin dress (a la Liz Hurley) to the grocery store? Or the dry cleaners, perhaps? Because that was what I loved about Versace: Its humor was so obvious my fantasies or running mundane errands while clothed and accompanied by Gianni himself seemed so...possible.
Which is why it was so hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that someone would want to kill this man. Not only had he not done anything wrong, but he had done something right! He made people smile! How could you not feel better just looking at Gianni Versace-designed garments? I sat in a stupor on the stoop outside my dormroom. I hurt because this kind of death seemed as innocent as my ideas of fashion itself: There were no motives other than insanity.
Cathy Horyn clearly felt differently. For her, the Versace death revealed to her how financially fragile the whole family was, how fragile the people behind the impossibly confident name. His death, for her, was an event to which she was jaded before it even occured. After all, Graydon was calling and hounding her with questions (what a bother!) and someone else had landed the story at Vanity Fair (how unfair!) and those Versaces were at last exposed that they weren't as glamorous or carefree or optimistic as they made out to be.
Well, of course they weren't. But for me, the murder of Gianni Versace somehow solidified my naivite, or, perhaps, my desire to find fashion perfectly beautiful. I didn't know about Donatella and her tanorexia or Allegra and her anorexia or the silly excessive Miami lifestyle or the silly excessive lifestyle anywhere. I didn't even get that the Medusa logo was hideously absurd. Versace's death managed to permanently preserve for me what I believed to be the Versace spirit: the impossibility and lack of reason behind his muder seemed, in my adolescent mind, to somehow go hand-in-hand with the impossibily and lack of reason behind the palpable Versace zest for life and beauty. Versace to me will always be Versace then: Gianni Versace and his death will always be simultaneously just-happening in my mind, one just developing its own opinions and style and which will always hold Versace out to be that as it should have been.