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How Gianni Versace Pressured Sister Donatella to Dye Her Hair Platinum at Age 11

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Santo, Donatella, and Gianni Versace photographed at Villa Fontanelle, Moltrasio, Lake Como, 1987, photo Alfa Castaldi.

Sometimes a king issues orders before he has a throne.

This was the case for Gianni Versace who was 19 — and had not yet founded the revered Versace fashion house — when he directed his sister, Donatella Versace, to dye her hair blonde. She was 11. The inspiration? Patty Pravo, an Italian singer.

“Back then Gianni was so obsessed with Pravo, an iron-straight-haired ‘blond,’ that he persuaded eleven-year-old Donatella to dye her own hair just like his heroine,” writes Ingrid Sischy in the first chapter of VERSACE by Donatella Versace with Maria Luisa Frisa and Stefano Tonchi. The book is an “intimate visual history” of Versace and was released by Rizzoli New York on Tuesday.

“They both knew their mother would have a fit, but the adoring younger sister went along with her brother’s invention of her new blond look,” adds Sischy, “and she has never looked back.”

The anecdote is tucked amongst beautiful photographs of the Versace family and the history of their line — fashion that’s coveted by celebrities. Sischy goes on to explain that Mr. Versace also encouraged his young sister to steal money from their mother’s purse and the car keys from their father’s trousers so he could attend Pravo’s performance in Sicily, but he couldn’t leave his “mini-diva” behind. According to VERSACE, the siblings almost missed the concert because the “baby blue convertible Fiat” broke down.

© Rizzoli New York, 2016
© Rizzoli New York, 2016

“Gianni told me to open the hood and see what was wrong with the engine,” Ms. Versace is quoted as saying. “I said, ‘Are you crazy? How am I going to do that?’”

While Mr. Versace got to see his beloved Pravo perform, they “never saw the car again” and had to hitchhike all of the way home. And so, since the age of 11, Donatella Versace has sported the Barbie-doll-blonde hair of her older brother’s idol. It’s a look tied to memories made even more precious after Mr. Versace’s violent murder in 1997.

When Ms. Versace, now creative director of the fashion brand, was interviewed by The Guardian in 2008, the journalist asked her if she would ever change her look — one that involves her blonde hair, heavily shadowed eyes and tight, single-color clothing.

“Me? In, what, flowery dresses? No. No, no, no. It would not go well with my personality,” she told The Guardian. “I don’t wear clothes that are girlie, because I’m not girlie.”

Not that girlie, and not willing to switch out an image that’s iconic. After all… she is Versace.