Perhaps there is no fashion house logo more well recognized than Versace’s head of Medusa. The eye-catching emblem captures the drama the house would come to be known for.
Founded by Gianni Versace in 1982, the eponymous luxury brand has become one of the world’s most recognized fashion houses. Even if you don’t know a thing about fashion, you’ve probably heard about Versace in music lyrics or on TV. The label is known for its bold and sexy design aesthetic, often including intense colors (black and gold come to mind) and an unapologetic use of print and mixed metals.
However, Versace is also memorable for its connection to a tragedy that shook the world. In 1997, Gianni Versace was murdered in front of his Miami Beach mansion by spree killer Andrew Cunanan. The highly-publicized death has become the subject of true-crime documentaries, movies, and television shows over the years. The recent limited series, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” received the most nominations at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards.
Unfortunately, Gianni’s death was not the first major loss in the Versace family. Gianni’s older sister Tina died at 12 due to a poorly treated tetanus infection. This led the family to have Gianni’s younger sister, current Chief Creative Officer, Donatella Versace.
“Sudden death is frequent in my family,” Donatella explained to The New Yorker. So it seems that the Versace family is no stranger to heartbreaking endings.
From childhood, Gianni shared a connection to the world of Greek mythology. He grew up in Southern Italy, in Reggio di Calabria, where Hellenic influence is present in the region’s history, architecture, and culture. You might be surprised to learn Calabrian-Greek is a collection of endangered dialects still spoken in the region today, with only a few thousand speakers left. Reggio di Calabria sits within Magna Graecia, the name given to the Southern Italian locations where many Greeks colonized and settled beginning in 8th century BC.
Gianni Versace reportedly chose the Medusa head logo after remembering seeing it in ancient ruins he and his siblings played in as children. Gianni pulled this image from his childhood memory, like the myth, unable to look away from Medusa for too long.
The pool at his Miami mansion even featured a mosaic of Medusa, reminiscent of traditional depictions of the gorgon in ancient Greek and Roman art.
Medusa may be one of the most well-recognized monsters from Greek mythology. Some interpretations say that the beautiful maiden Medusa was too boastful, and Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom, sought to humble her by making her hideous. Medusa’s hair became a nest of slithering snakes, and anyone who looked directly at her would subsequently be turned to stone. Other interpretations say she had an affair with God of the Sea, Poseidon, making Athena jealous.
Recently, there has been a re-emphasis on the version of the myth that says Poseidon raped Medusa in Athena’s temple. In her wrath, Athena then turns Medusa into the gorgon we know her to be. Feminist scholars and activists alike have rallied around Medusa as a representation of how survivors are punished. This myth holds a deep and familiar grain of truth about the many reasons we find to punish women. It seems unfair then, that we remember Medusa as the only monster from the story.
In this way, Medusa and the house of Versace share a common sense of tragedy. They both understand the way punishing events can occur for no reason at all.
Replacing Medusa’s hair with a nest of vipers isn’t accidental. In the Western canon, snakes often represent trickery and evil. The animal that tempted Adam to take a bite of that wicked apple? Indeed, a snake. Athena not only turned Medusa beastly, she also turned her into a monster that was fundamentally corrupt.
According to The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, it is rare for characters in Greek art to face forward. Yet, in many renderings of Medusa over the millennia, she looks directly at the viewer. Medusa’s gaze is uncompromising, looking at us in spite of her monstrosity, or maybe because of it.
This is also how Versace’s logo finds Medusa. Gianni designed the logo in 1992, and not much about it has changed since then. A line-drawn Medusa looks at us dead on with a slight smile, set in a circle surrounded by a meandros or key border, typical in Greek design. The logo remains one of the most iconic fashion symbols of all time and stands out in a sea of minimalist branding.
There is an unapologetic nature to Medusa as she gazes back at us, and this idea is mirrored in Versace’s design. Excess and indulgence are celebrated, made feminine and sexy, or turned into a riot of color. Less is not more. More is more. The Versace woman is allowed to fully embrace her desires and reveal as much or as little of herself as she wants to. Who in the world ever needed modesty?
The story of the House of Versace is almost mythic because it includes intense sorrows as well as victory. Maybe this is what allows their brand to be so daring.
The Spring/Summer 2021 collection centered on the rebirth of Venus, another powerful woman in mythology, perfectly portrays Versace’s audaciousness. “With this collection/campaign I wanted to portray the modern Medusa. Or better, to highlight how her many faces can be drastically different from one another and every woman can actually be Medusa,” said the show’s notes.
As for the muse herself, Medusa is the face of an empire. Just try to look away.END
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