In 1991, I was a senior in college. I had my second real boyfriend and first real love and was about to make my transition into The Real World, whatever that meant, as a new college graduate. I finally grew into “pretty”, but still struggled with the idea of “sexy” and had exactly zero idea how to accomplish that without feeling like an impostor playing dress up.
The curse of a late bloomer is that you stumble over the fine line between what you want and what you don’t want because you only can see extremes until you painfully figure out how to balance the two. How do you accomplish “sexy” without “slutty”? Bold but not garish?
I had a great sense of self and passion for clothes and accessories, but I wanted my insides to match my outsides in a way that felt powerful, elegant and sexy – and all those dollars spent at J. Crew (back then!) and the Texas-Meets-the-Midwest approach wasn’t going to accomplish that.
And then in 1991 The Super Models arrived. In FORCE – launched by their walk at the Gianni Versace show. They were all long legs and color and confidence and sex and slink and I was… floored. In those pictures I found power, the right to be bold.
Those colors and patterns and chunky gold that came to define the nineties took a certain person to wear them, and I wanted to be that person. I wanted to drip with everything they symbolized. I wanted to walk with swagger, swing my hips just a bit more. I learned shoulders back, head up and I wanted to be that girl Versace designed for.
It was empowering.
Approaches to fashion and personal style change as you get older, wiser, travel – mine certainly have. The gluttonous nineties gave way to a more refined, clean approach in corporate America for me, but the punctuation of a well-placed statement never gave way – nor did the sense of dressing for power.
So when people say they like my style or my taste, I have Gianni Versace, the man, to thank because he helped me define my core approach. He told me all of that was okay.
When he was murdered in 1997 I felt physically ill. If a person could be a talisman he was mine and in an instant on a Miami morning he was gone. I sat glued to the news reports showing the outside of his Ocean Drive mansion, a sheet covering a genius.
So, you can imagine the excitement I had when I realized I’d have the opportunity to visit his mansion for a party last week at the Mom 2.0 Summit. A chance to peek inside his world that fascinated me all those years ago – an opportunity to sit and study what he surrounded himself with.
I shopped for DAYS. It was a personal challenge to honor his impact on me and I wanted to walk into that building as if I could walk up to him and shake his hand, because in some way it felt like that could happen.
Earlier in the day of the party I spent some time at the pool – a bit too much time and I was overheated by the time I needed to change. The top I had planned was entirely too hot for an outdoor Miami fete and I started to panic that changing my outfit would be in some way be disrespectful by not living up to my expectations – or maybe his. I couldn’t go with the original plan and the top I had brought along gave way to a looser white silky t-shirt. But somewhere along the way once I put it all together, it was perfect. A silky T, leather pants, a bold black/gold belt, killer heels and two huge Wonder Woman-esque cuffs.
It was simple and bold and sexy and easy and I was ready. I had remembered the lessons he taught and interpreted them as my own and I was reminded, yet again, why he was such a defining part of my early womanhood.
Walking into the mansion I expected to feel a bit of awe, a healthy dose of “fan girl” and good bit of excitement. What I did not expect was to feel a sense of overwhelming sadness – or that I was, in some way, walking on his grave.
I just couldn’t stay.
With each picture I took a little piece of me died. It just felt wrong. I wanted to stand in the presence of his legacy and instead I felt like I was trespassing on something – but that something didn’t belong to him any longer. Details of his touch are still there, but it didn’t feel like his spirit of life and color and sex and audacity remained.
I actually stood in an empty courtyard while waiting to call a taxi and apologized under my breath.
On the taxi ride back to the hotel, in quiet, I sat desperately trying to figure out what lesson I had just learned. I’m still wrestling with that.
Until then I carry with me those lessons taught all those years ago by a handsome man in Miami by way of Italy – and all the joy and life and art that came with him. Others may be trying to fill his shoes, but none hold a candle to him, and the path he created for them to follow.
Con amore, Gianni…