Giovanni Maria Versace was born in 1946 in Italy. During his 50-year lifespan, he became one of the most famous fashion designers of the later half of the 20th century, launching his fashion house in 1978, a now internationally-recognized brand that not only puts out collections for fall and spring, but also couture lines for summer and winter, as well as pre-fall and resort lines as well. When he was alive, Gianni Versace's net worth made him one of the richest men in fashion, with his company's assets valued at $500 million.
Versace was gunned down outside his home in 1997, cutting short what might have been. But before he was taken too soon, he accomplished more in his lifetime than most do with twice as many years.
Versace grew up in the world of fabric and notions. His mother, Francesca, had a sewing business, and he began his work there as her apprentice. In the late 1960s he decided to head to Italy's fashion capital, Milan, where he worked for Italian ready-to-wear lines such as Genny. Even before he struck out on his own, he was creating lines for them, including the "Byblos" and "Complice" lines. Byblos became an independent company in the 1980s, and is still running today.
In 1978, Versace took the plunge and held his first fashion show, which heralded the launch of his own eponymous brand. He called the first line "Gianni Versace Donna" after his sister, Donatella, who he considered his muse.
Versace was not only a master of designer and lover of all things beautiful. (In the new American Crime Story, Donatella, played by Penelope Cruz, has a line that her brother "has a weakness for beauty; he forgives it anything.") He was also a master showman. He was smart about the photographers he worked with in order to present his clothes to the public. Versace also created the craze that consumed the catwalks for the late 1980s and early 1990s: the supermodel. He did so by agreeing to pay what were at that time seen as outrageous sums to the original "fab four": Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington.
By paying them such high rates, they became seen as the go-to models, and then suddenly everyone wanted to pay them high rates. In this way, Versace not only elevated the show of clothing to the public, but made superstars out of those that wore them, elevating models to celebrity status as well. And everyone knows that people want to wear what celebrities are wearing. It was a brilliant business move, and it helped changed the industry into what it is today.
He also used his relationships with other celebrities — from Princess Diana to rock stars — to help elevate his line, and he designed to their sensibilities. While some of his clothes were royal-worthy, Versace still today has the aura of the fashion worn by the rock and roll elite.
When Versace was shot in 1997, he left behind a legacy that was hard to live up to. It took a couple of years before Donatella managed to get the brand noticed for their designs, and not for the personal tragedy that had befallen their family. Since then, she has continued to build their empire, which is estimated to be worth $1.7 billion today. And $800 million of that, the segment that had been Versace's personal stake, is now owned by Allegra Versace, his favorite niece and Donatella's daughter. That's twice over what most Kardashians are worth.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.