At twelve, Donatella had her first highlights— "'Lighter and lighter and lighter,' I told them!" she recalled. At fourteen, she was suspended from school for wearing eyeliner to rival Cleopatra's; by sixteen, she was a platinum blonde.

This chronology is courtesy of writer Lauren Collins, who, in this week's New Yorker, offers up a strangely moving portrait of designer Donatella Versace. Yes, of course, as Collins aptly points out, there are the elements of the perverse surrounding the designer and her famous family — as Collins puts it, "When was the last time you saw a pubescent boy on YouTube impersonating Donna Karan?" — but there is also something charmingly vulnerable about a group of individuals so enmeshed in its own over-the-top fantasy world. (During a earthquake, relates Donatella's ex-husband, the designer called out for her face creams. She also travels with her own furniture so she can bring her home with her everywhere.)

Advertisement



It seems, however, that it is a lifetime of loss as much as a life lived among luxury that created the woman known as Donatella Versace. Collins tells us that Gianni wasn't the only Versace child to have died a premature death: The eldest child, Tina, died before Donatella was even born. (Knee-scrape. Tetanus. Almost-instant death.) Says Donatella on the 10th anniversary of her older, more-famous brother's death:

What happened to him, you know, this is a tragedy. He die, he's not alive anymore. This is really the worst thing that can happen to you, to lose your life. So I say to myself, 'You're going to make it. Grow up, you're a grownup here, you can do it.'

The designer is also unexpectedly earnest about her now-notorious addiction to cocaine.

Advertisement

You know, you think you're in control, and you try to stop, but you're not. What happened was I was in a severe depression. I start to isolate myself from everybody, and I would see my children suffer seeing my life that, but I didn't have the strength to talk about it....Elton [John] said, 'Donatella, you know what, we're not forcing you, but you need to go to rehab. There is a plane waiting for you.' But I say yes. I was ready. I had no idea what rehab was, but I left that night.

Lindsay, Paris, Britney: Take note, ladies, Donatella Versace is what celebrity salvation just might look like.

Mondo Donatella [New Yorker]