M aking clothes for a show about late designer Gianni Versace without the help of Versace isn’t easy. The Assassination of Gianni Versace co-costume designers Allison Leach and Lou Eyrich had nearly five weeks to assemble a wardrobe of vintage Versace pieces, sourced from Ebay stores and Etsy sellers, not to mention high-end consignment shops. They also made industry contacts through A Current Affair, a Los Angeles showcase with more than 150 vintage retailers. What they couldn’t find, they recreated, including every single look from Versace’s famous 1997 Haute Couture show in Paris, which would ultimately serve as the designer’s final turn on the runway.
The aforementioned show takes place in the second episode, in which a Naomi Campbell lookalike closes out the presentation as a “Versace bride.” In order to recreate all 17 of the shimmery mesh gowns with rhinestone embellishments, Leach and her team painstakingly researched the different types of crystal mesh, metal mesh, and silk jersey fabrics that comprised the real-life designs. To accommodate a TV schedule with a swift turnaround, Leach says they devoted one day per dress for the show.
“Our tailor, Joanne Mills, hadn’t worked with those before so assembling crystal mesh and metal mesh dresses was almost like jewelry assembly,” Leach tells CR. “There was some faux leather and beadwork and the team did a lot of the intricate rhine-stoning work on the signature crosses.”
In our first glimpse of the late designer, played by Édgar Ramírez, Versace dons a flowing silk robe that seems to flit and flutter behind him as he maneuvers around his decadent Miami Beach mansion on the morning he is murdered by Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). Producer Ryan Murphy imparted his own vision for the scene and specifically asked the costume department to create a pink robe.
“Ryan had this pink robe in his mind’s eye because he specifically asked for a beautiful pink robe for the opening sequence,” Leach says. “We built that from scratch from silk and it was all machine-quilted with the Greek key embroidery on the lapels. For the outfit that Versace was shot in, we recreated that from the research but we added a tone-on-tone black Medusa embroidery on the center front of the t-shirt because Ryan wanted to have as much Medusa present as possible.”
Sifting through Versace’s collections, overflowing with bright pop art dresses and Grecian details, it’s clear why the designer made such a huge mark on fashion during the 1990s. The Medusa logo itself, most notably associated with the brand, is ever-present in the show, from adorning the sides of Versace’s shoes to the gates of the mansion of which Versace is gunned down in front. “It was so important to Gianni and it came from his childhood in Calabria—this Medusa head that he incorporated into his very first store and it’s the iconography of the brand—so we tried to get the Medusa in as much as we could,” Leach says.
Many of the costumes themselves were a combination of real and recreated Versace pieces. The printed Barocco shirts that Ramírez wore, for instance, were all Versace originals. As for costuming Penelope Cruz, who plays Gianni’s sister Donatella, accuracy was most important. Although the Versace family has released statements calling the series a “work of fiction,” Cruz reportedly obtained permission from Donatella herself for the on-screen portrayal.
Donatella’s 1996 Met Gala attire, the black-and-gold studded dress from Versace’s Bondage Collection, was Leach’s favorite costume to design. “It’s such an iconic dress to get to explore and find how it was made, from the materials, the lamb, the drapery of the skirt, and then the intricate buckle work on the bodice,” she says. “We had to recreate the hardware as well with custom-made buckles. Joann Mills built with such talent and skill and I think when you see the picture side-by-side with Penelope and Donatella, it’s a pretty magical transformation.”
For a hot pink evening gown that Donatella wore (which was eventually cut from the series), Leach used real Versace safety pins and their original placement on the dress. The wardrobe for Donatella also included Versace belts and boots, resplendent with intricate Western hardware and safety pin details, but the designer’s affinity for wearing body-conscious Azzedine Alaïa garments was also taken into account.
“Penelope was aware that Donatella wore Versace but also Alaïa so we were always keen to find those pieces and we would all be so excited when we found something that was so right on the money, that was so Donatella,” Leach says. “She wears a couple of different Alaïa leather jackets and some Alaïa boots as well.”
From the moment Donatella steps foot off of the plane from Europe to Miami, after just hearing the tragic news that her brother had been murdered, the grief-stricken sister in mourning wears only all-black outfits. The only moments in which we’re able to peer back at the lively and daring Donatella, the one who inspired so many of Versace’s colorful creations, is through flashbacks.
“It’s hard because our story is so much about the moments after the death, so we couldn’t do gold or some of the brighter colors that Donatella wore,” Leach says. “In some of the flashbacks to times before his death, we were able to use bolder colors and more stud-work and opulent choices but after the death, we had to keep it respectful and somber because of the character’s emotional journey.”
As the viewer follows along with Cunanan’s cross-country murder spree and his web of telling tall tales, charting all the way back to his childhood, it was imperative to Leach and her team that the time period and location informed the costuming. Major themes including the ongoing struggle for LGBT rights and the AIDS epidemic, which encapsulated the late ’80s and ’90s, served as the undercurrent for the series. Miami Beach and Versace’s mansion functioned as characters in their own right, and everyone from the leads to the extras were outfitted in bright colors and whites to stay true to the era.
“We definitely wanted to get that hot Miami color palette,” Leach says. “We paid special attention to the fit of the clothes because the ’90s were worn so oversized and we made sure the t-shirts and dress shirts were off-the-shoulder and had to research the correct width of the tie, the drop of the lapel, and the fit of the pants. A lot them were higher waisted and looser in the leg and down to the every last background person, we really tried to achieve the period feel.”
In poring over numerous Versace collections and sourcing original pieces for the show, Leach developed a greater appreciation for the late designer and what a loss his death meant to the fashion world and beyond. Cementing himself as a cultural icon, Versace ushered in a new age in fashion in which opulence and maximalism were celebrated and was the first designer to tap into the publicity machine by filling his front rows with celebrities. Leach says that through his otherworldly creations, and his incorporation of American, Italian, Grecian, and Western details, Versace was able to reach international prominence and inspire scores of young designers.
“Going into this project, I liked Versace and now I have even more respect for what he meant to fashion and that word audacity comes to mind,” Leach says. “You can see why it appeals to people across the globe because of its audaciousness and because everybody knows that’s Versace. It’s not like other brands where you might not guess what it is—it’s just elegant. There’s something to be said for something that’s so recognizably Versace that I think appeals to a certain wearer.”END
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