If you crossed a V.C. Andrews novel with fashion nonfiction, you would end up with House of Versace, the deliciously trashy story of the ups and extreme downs of the Versace legacy. Gianni Versace, founder of the opulent design house, lived a life of glamour and lavishness until he was murdered on the steps of his home by a crazed fan. It is with this moment that author Deborah Ball (a former Wall Street Journal reporter) begins her narrative. The novel reads like the kind of gossip magazine you pore over in a grocery checkout line: no salacious detail is overlooked, and no family secret left in the dark.
Chapters are in-depth and meticulously researched. While, of course, we delve deep into the early childhood of Gianni, older brother Santo and diva-in-her-own-right Donatella, pages upon pages are also dedicated to detailing the background of the celebrities that get introduced. Armani, Campbell, Donatella’s husband, Paul Beck, Gianni’s lover, Antonio D’Amico, and eventually Gianni’s murderer, Andrew Cunanan, are each given a proper biography before being woven into our tragic hero’s timeline.
Not only a story of the demise of Gianni, House of Versace chronicles the Titanic-esque downward spiral of the Versace women. Both younger sister Donatella and her daughter Allegra seemed to suffer under the weight of the label’s legacy. From Donatella’s young, spirited days of frolicking around Italy and acting as her brother’s muse to hard partying that took a turn for the dark side when she became dependant on cocaine, we watch her struggle as she’s placed at the helm of the biggest label in the world, while everyone waits for her to singlehandedly destroy it. The emotional and physical struggles of Gianni’s niece Allegra are also well documented. From being unexpectedly named heir to the Versace throne at age eleven to her hysteria after losing her precious uncle, coupled with a battle with anorexia, we witness both the physical and emotional tolls that the pressure of fame can take. While tragedy does hit almost every major player, it seems the Versace women are hit the hardest.
As someone who worships the sequined, bolded names of the industry, I found House of Versace to be a fast-paced look inside the troubles of a legendary family. The book reads like the perfect murder mystery, including ominous, foreboding predictions from the author that let you know trouble is just around the corner. Ball keeps the pace quick and unfailingly exciting, much like the fashion industry itself. The chapter detailing the funeral cannot be missed if only to marvel at the sheer spectacle that was made from an obsession of grandeur and a guest-list to die for.
House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder and Survival by Deborah Ball. Crown Publishers, 2010.
Review by Bianca Teixeira
Photography by Brianne Burnell