As with most cities in Italy, Milan is filled with history. Yet unlike many, it tends to hide its treasures behind walls and doorways. Via Gesù is one example. A street where aristocracy once lived, it is now lined with luxury boutiques, museums, a five-star hotel, and private residences. Its most famous address is marked by Medusa heads carved into rustic-looking doors: Palazzo Versace.
The 18th-century palace houses the Versace showroom and a two-bedroom apartment once belonging to its founder, Gianni Versace. Today, it is alive with chatter to welcome a select few for the unveiling of Atelier Versace fragrances. Through the main entrance is a curved staircase that leads to a modern space with whitewashed walls and checkered marble floors; a subdued backdrop to the flamboyant prints that are synonymous with the brand. Inside one of the vast rooms, waiters offer welcome drinks. With chiseled features and wearing crisp white jackets studded with gold buttons, they look like models straight out of a Versace campaign.
The debut fragrance collection for Atelier Versace offers six contemporary scents, created by some of the world’s most notable noses and personally chosen by Donatella Versace, chief creative officer of the house. As each of the compositions and perfumers are introduced, the subject of layering arises. A husky voice from the back of the room declares, “I wear them all together.” There is a ripple of delight. Donatella Versace has joined us, and so subtly that no one had noticed.
With her platinum blonde hair cut just below her shoulders, Versace is instantly recognizable. As she stands, she reveals a petite, svelte physique dressed in a brightly patterned dress and sky-high heels. We follow her through a maze of rooms filled with mannequins wearing some of the maison’s most iconic designs; in one space, the gold chain-mail dresses from the Versace SS18 show – a tribute to her late brother. We then enter a room designed like the Atelier, where tailors are pinning dresses on models and embellishing gowns with beads. “I wanted to create something unique, a collection of fragrances that felt like they are made-to-measure like the dresses we create,” says Donatella. “Fragrances carry with them memories that I cherish.”
Born in Reggio Calabria, southern Italy, Donatella is the youngest of four children, with their father a salesman and mother a dressmaker. “My first memory of scent is of my mother. I know it might seem a bit obvious, but my mother was such an extraordinary woman,” Donatella reminisces. “She has been an example for me and my brothers. Her strength, her willingness to make it on her own, her never stopping in front of difficulties, that’s my first life lesson.” At age nine, Gianni made his first dress, taught by his mother. The foundations were set for the Versace dynasty.
Fashion may have been at the forefront of the family business, but so was perfume. When asked what it meant to them, Donatella answers thoughtfully, “Self-expression. Somehow, even when we were little, the choice of a fragrance has always been a big deal. I guess that’s why they say that choosing a fragrance is something extremely personal.” For her, this wasn’t simply about finding the perfect blend. “I have always loved to mix different fragrances together because I didn’t want to be like anyone else. I never use only one fragrance. My personal way of doing it is mixing scented oils for the body with different types of fragrances so that the result is something unique and at the same time a bit different every day,” she says. It is a tradition also present in Middle Eastern culture and one that will champion the six perfumes displayed.
From fresh to floral and woody, each perfume is unique, taking the wearer on an innovative olfactory journey. “If a note hits the right spot, I know it is the right one,” Donatella says. Cédrat de Diamante introduces a burst of Italian lemon zest, pink grapefruit, and natural woods. Éclat de Rose highlights the delicate flowers of the Moroccan Rose centifolia, while Jasmin au Soleil features jasmine flowers from India, which are picked exclusively at sunrise. At the stronger end is Figue Blanche – fresh fig notes blended with bergamot and neroli for a zesty hit, while jasmine and rose petals deepen the juice. Santal Boisé was created from Sri Lankan sandalwood, ambary Gurjun, and saffron to produce an oud-like effect. The final fragrance is Vanille Rouge. Perfumer Jordi Fernandez was inspired by “the intricacies of Middle Eastern traditional scents.” It opens with vanilla and a hint of pralines, alongside a musk accord, before a surprising rose note seduces.
Donatella is a fan of floral essences, with her love for roses present throughout the six juices. “I have hundreds of bottles of floral perfumes and oils in my home and I have fun mixing them together to create new scents. I am obsessed,” she declares. Her two favorite scents from the collection to layer? “Cédrat de Diamante and Éclat de Rose.”
Like the Atelier and the materials it fashions, these perfumes have been created from only the finest raw ingredients. “I think everything is linked to the care we put in all that we do. As much as it needs a certain number of hours and experts’ hands to create an Atelier Versace dress, you need the expertise of skilled noses to create the perfect scents,” Donatella explains. This care is also evident in the handmade packaging. The bottles’ inspiration is drawn from neo-classic columns and features glass designed with an innovative twisting technique, an integral part of the Versace DNA. “I wanted to play with contrasts: frosted glass and a transparent one, black and white, the colors of the scents themselves,” she says. “And then the golden cap that closes it all because each bottle contains your own very precious fragrance.”
The theme of family extends through to the campaign, with the Versace tailors the stars of the show. They are seen pinning dresses, posing with models, and trying the perfumes to Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni. Spritzing Figue Blanche at the camera, one tailor turns back to her colleagues saying, “Oh, it actually smells nice!” Donatella is a master at finding a balance between fun, fashion, and now fragrance. It achieves authenticity where so many miss the mark. Quite simply, what Versace does best.
Originally published in the November 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia