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The Donatella We Know: Friends and Colleagues Pay Tribute to Designer

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Photo: Getty

Fashion is always evolving and so is Donatella Versace. She might be an icon of blonde-ness and glamour, but over the years she’s revealed there are almost as many facets to her personality as there are carats in her famous canary diamond ring, a gift from her brother Gianni.

First is her fortitude in the face of obstacles; she took over all aspects of the family business after Gianni’s brutal murder in 1997. She also has a keen eye for talent: Christopher Kane, Jonathan Anderson, and Anthony Vaccarello have all worked under her at Versus. And then there’s her fabulous sense of humor. She once joined Maya Rudolph—who played the designer on SNL—for a skit at the VH1 Fashion Awards.

When asked to describe herself recently, the designer responded: “A warm person and very loyal,” an assessment that is echoed by colleagues who shared their tributes and favorite anecdotes of Donatella in advance of her receipt of the CFDA’s International Award on June 4. Brava, DV!

Helena Christensen
“I was recently in Dubai with Donatella celebrating the opening of her new hotel and the suite I was in was so glamorous and fancy, decked out in Versace bathrobes, towels, colorful pillows, and beautifully decorated porcelain. I told her how wonderful it all was and she looked at me and said, ‘Thank you, bring the robe back home with you . . . and take the towels too . . . and the pillows, just grab all the pillows, and why not also just take all the porcelain—take it all!’ She’s so funny, she always makes me laugh.”

Anthony Vaccarello
“Donatella is unique. Working with her was very natural and fun! She is generous, she gave me total freedom, and respected my vision, and I loved it, I love her . . . who doesn’t?”

Christopher Kane

“I have so many fond memories of working with Donatella: You just need to hear her unique laugh and that tells you a lot about the person she is. She is hilarious, mischievous, witty, really just the most remarkable woman I have ever met. Her strength and passion will always inspire. She is Donatella Versace, the one and only.”

Amber Valletta

“I will always remember Donatella personally bringing Versace to my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Back in the ’90s my mother and I organized an event for the local food bank called Supermodels Stepping Out Against Hunger. Donatella brought all of the clothes with her team and never even blinked an eye at all the logistics! She gave of her time and spirit with such effortless graciousness. Thanks to her we raised an enormous amount of money and awareness for the food bank while having a blast at walking to Prince in Versace gowns. I love you Donatella!”

Tom Ford
“I love Donatella. She is a true original. I first met Donatella in 1990 when we moved to Milan; Richard [Buckley] had known her from the ’80s. I remember when she opened the door to her apartment, I was immediately taken by her powerful personality. Donatella is not subtle, which is what I love about her. She speaks her mind. She is also one of the strongest women that I know and has retained an incredible sense of humor through all that she has been through. I remember one night years ago in New York she was giving us a tour of their town house and decided to show us [her brother] Santo’s bedroom. She opened the door, turned on the lights, and started showing us around. I looked over and there was Santo in the bed. She just said, ‘Oh it’s fine,’ and kept pointing out things in the room in that incredible voice and accent of hers. Of course, Richard and I were a little embarrassed, but could not help starting to laugh nervously as there was poor Santo lying there in his bed while we were looking at the furniture around him. I think Santo was awake but he kept his eyes closed. It was hysterical. Very Donatella.”

Jonathan Anderson
“Donatella gives chance to youth.”

Claudia Schiffer

“At Gianni’s tribute show last year, Donatella put her arm around me as we started walking down the runway. I could literally feel her energy lighting up the room, full of hundreds of people. It was so exciting to share that magical moment with her. The crazy excitement continued backstage and long into the night. Donatella is extraordinarily instinctive at creating iconic moments and fashion.”

Jacob K
“I have been lucky enough to have worked closely with Donatella over the last four years. When we first met I was pleasantly surprised to discover how real and normal she is. She’s incredibly protective and generous to her team and there’s a sense of family around her which is very Italian, I guess. At fittings she will always join her team for lunch like any normal person would do and have a good old laugh (yes, she’s got a very good sense of humor) and gossip (yes, she’s got great stories to tell). Donatella is very loyal and has a big heart, to boot—a rare find in this industry.”

Marco Zanini
“Donatella showed me an utterly inspiring path, which is something only visionary talents can do. I do owe her so much: Amongst countless things, she taught me confidence. I had the very lucky chance to be part of Donatella’s wonderful team for nine memorable and formative years. She hired me on the spot in 1999 during my very first interview with her, saying: ‘If you want to work for me, you’re starting tomorrow morning!’ Asked about the notice I had to give to my previous bosses, she replied: ‘They’ll understand, otherwise tell them to call me.’ They surely did, and, needless to say, they didn’t dare to make that phone call!

[Working at Versace] was an intense mix of restless creativity, disciplined hard work, and unmatched glamour uniquely informed by the laser-sharp, no-nonsense, and uncompromising vision of Donatella. No detail whatsoever was overlooked by ‘la Signora,’ as everyone respectfully called her. The devotion that she naturally inspires is always rewarded, she always puts her team up front, something that’s rather uncommon in this industry. When I was at Versace, there was no interview, preview, shooting, party, or whirling celebrity happening that she didn’t share with us. When I left to try my own legs as a creative director, I moved to NYC. Minutes before my one show at Halston, a gigantic bunch of red roses was delivered backstage, it was so humongous that it couldn’t be delivered through the entrance doors of the Gagosian Gallery. The note, handwritten in her usual gold ink, read: ‘When you take your bow, imagine yourself blond.’ ”

Pat McGrath

“Donatella is one of my greatest sources of inspiration; she is an incendiary icon, the ultimate blonde bombshell. She is a major modern goddess, deeply daring in everything she creates, and I am so grateful for the years we have worked together and the unstoppable confidence her clothing and vision bring to women.”

Maya Rudolph
“Doing Radio City with Donatella was such a moment…both of us blondes dressed in matching Versace gowns. She has an unbelievable sense of humor about herself. She told me if I was going to wear diamonds while impersonating her, they needed to be real diamonds. I wish she was my fairy godmother.”

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This story originally appeared on Vogue.com

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