Fashion photographer and Versace family intimate Sante D’Orazio captured the surreal, somber, and graceful beauty of the pivotal Versace fashion show in Milan in October 1997, just months after Gianni Versace was murdered, and his younger sister, Donatella, took over the family business. At his Soho loft, where original pieces by de Kooning and Clemente are artfully strewn about the floor amid his own works, D’Orazio recalled the magic moments that transpired as he shot the final Gianni Versace collection. Here, we excerpt some of the haunting images the photographer collected in his forthcoming book Gianni and Donatella (teNeues), which commemorates the tenth anniversary of the occasion. Over a pot of strong black coffee, D’Orazio talked sex, life, and fashion’the very cornerstones of his own work as well.
An interview with Sante D’Orazio after the jump!
BLACKBOOK: How did you get to know Gianni? SANTE D’ORAZIO: In the ’80s, I was one of those hot, young photographers. I was very close to all the girls that did his shows: Naomi, Kate, Linda. I had known them since they were 14, 15 years old. I was also working for Italian Vogue and French Vogue, so the professional side got me in, and the personal side developed. When he passed on, I was interested in going to the show because I knew it would be monumental, and I thought that it would be a great thing to document as a photographer, a friend, and an artist.
BB: What were you expecting out of the day? SD: You know, I didn’t know. Being there, I feel like I just held the camera and something else took over. The air was thick those four days. Gianni had started this collection, he was killed, and his sister finished it. And so the pictures are all about ghosts, in a way.
BB: They do have a sort of glamorous, but ghostly quality. SD: There’s a lot of symbolism in these pictures, the women walking in and out of the void. BB: What was it about Gianni and his design sensibility that made him so special? SD: The ’80s were about beautiful women who were sexually defined, and Gianni defined that in his own way, but it was in your face. He had that sense of innovation’the chain-link dresses’and yet [his designs were] very sexy, sensual and appealing.
BB: What was Gianni like to work with? SD: He was a gem, a loving, caring man who, if you were his guest, made sure you were taken care of. You come into the house, you know, they’ll make you pasta, whatever it is you need. You haven’t got a suit? Well, they’ll get you one immediately.
BB: How about professionally? SD: I did a lot of editorial with his stuff. He would write you a note if an editorial that he loved came out in French Vogue or something. It made you feel super-special, and you knew it came straight from the heart.
BB: What did the loss of Gianni mean for the fashion world? SD: He became a historical figure, an addition to the language and vocabulary of fashion and design. A loss is a loss.
BB: What was it about Gianni’s shows that made them such occassions? SD: Let’s face it: In life there is sex and death. Whenever the sexual can be entertained, it’s tantalizing, thrilling, and life-giving. This man brought that thrill to everyone’it’s like getting turned on. [Pointing to an image of a model on the runway] Look at her body’Oh my god! I can see it but I don’t’all of a sudden you feel it right in your chest and in your groin.
BB: There’s a certain way that a great model can work the runway that no celebrity face could ever replace. SD: They’re little goddesses, you know, little moments of the divine. It doesn’t matter what one’s sexual orientation is. There’s a divine thing being depicted here with these Greek goddesses. Greek statues were awe-inspiring because they felt that the perfection of the human form was a depiction of the beauty found in nature and God.
BB: Where were you when you heard about Gianni’s death? SD: I was here in New York. I called up the house in Miami, and Donatella actually picked up the phone. She was hysterical, and she was like, “Gianni’s dead! Gianni’s dead!“
BB: What was Donatella’s reaction to this body of work? SD: I had to contain these images. It was just too emotional for her, so I held on to it [for ten years]. I called her every year, and this time she was like, “Sure, you can do it. You should do it.“
BB: In a way, it’s nice that it’s ten years later. With hindsight, now you can look back. SD: Back then wasn’t the proper time. It was too soon. Now it’s perfect, the ten-year anniversary. [Pointing to an image of Donatella in the book] This one’s a really religious photograph. The book starts with a fractured picture of Gianni, and ends with a beautiful, almost holy, picture of Donatella. Most of the other pictures that I’ve done have had a sensual quality to them, but it’s always portraiture, and it’s more or less about pop culture. This is my romantic side, which I’ve always had but hadn’t really found.