How the American Crime Story: Versace Costume Designers Got Versace Clothes Without the Brand's Approval
The Versace family refused to participate in the controversial show, so its costume designers got creative
American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace is easily one of the most anticipated TV shows of 2018—and for good reason. After all, the first installment of the true crime-based anthology series, The People v. O.J. Simpson, swept the Emmys with a whopping nine wins last year. Now, the latest brainchild from creator Ryan Murphy is finally here. Season two of the FX series, which premieres Jan. 17 at 10 p.m., explores the 1997 murder of designer Gianni Versace that shook the fashion world. Edgar Ramirez brings the founder of the Italian fashion house to life onscreen, while Penélope Cruz nails the part of his sister and ultimate successor, Donatella Versace. The show also stars Ricky Martin as Gianni’s scene-stealing lover, Antonio D’Amico. But hands down, the most powerful performance is delivered by Darren Criss, whose downright bone-chilling portrayal of serial killer Andrew Cunanan will be hard for viewers to forget.
The all-star cast is alluring, but impossible to overlook are the costumes they wear. It’s rare for a crime series to be so deeply rooted in fashion. On top of that, the fashion house was decidedly uninvolved with the project, so costume designers Lou Eyrich and Allison Leach had to get creative, turning to resellers online to buy real Versace items from past collections.
For specific looks that played pivotal roles in the show, though—like the black leather bondage dress that Donatella wore on a red carpet in 1993, signaling a new era for the label and establishing herself as a creative force behind the scenes—they had to start from scratch. “We knew we were going to be recreating actual Versace garments, so we did research at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising here in L.A.,” said Leach. “They have one of the largest Versace collections in the country. In this case, it was researching not only photos and videos and magazines but actually looking at the real clothes and their construction and then recreating that.”
The wardrobe was so expansive that during filming, it was stored in multiple Miami warehouses filled with everything from law enforcement uniforms and college student ensembles specific to each city Cunanan’s killing spree hit. And then there are the looks we see inside the Versace mansion that capture the label’s key ‘90s trends. “Leather played a big part, and so did hardware—the stud-work, the collar tips, and the medusa details,” said Leach. “Gianni is also so famous for his prints. Even a person who doesn’t know much about fashion can still recognize an iconic rococo-pattern Versace shirt inspired by his life growing up in Calabria, Italy. There’s a sense of grandeur to his designs that is very aspirational.”
Scroll down for our full chat with the costume designers, and tune into the premiere of American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace on Wednesday, January 17 at 10 p.m. on FX.
Without access to Versace’s archives, how many actual pieces were you able to find and use for the show?
Lou Eyrich: I’d say half of Penélope’s closet was real.
Allison Leach: The Versace collections are skyrocketing right now on eBay and 1stdibs. The prices are out of control—everything online is in the thousands. And when you have so many clothes to do, you can’t be spending $3,000 on one piece. We were able to use more Versace menswear, like the actual printed shirts and a lot of original jeans and shoes.
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Penélope Cruz as Donatella Versace is an epic match. What was it like to help transform her for the role?
LE: Penélope herself was very exact in what she wanted to portray with Donatella. The silhouettes are so important—it was all about the corsets and showing off a tiny waist. The clothes are very body-forming—there’s a lot of body-con.
AL: She also really wanted to project the gravitas of the situation, so she did wear a lot of black, which Donatella did. So then the silhouette becomes even more important, and the details, like the perfect Versace belt. Those details really sell it. Penélope likes to wear Versace in her own life and has tremendous respect for the brand, so whenever we’d find some gem, she would get so excited and say, “Can I keep this?!”
Was there one piece that was absolutely crucial to the series?
LE: I would say the pink robe that Gianni wears in the beginning. It wasn’t actually a Versace piece and we never saw him in anything like it, but it was Ryan Murphy’s vision of him flowing through the casa in Miami in this beautiful pink and gold robe—the opulence of it and the way that it popped throughout the stonewashed white walls of the casa. I think that was our number one mandate from Ryan Murphy was to create this pink robe.
AL: He wanted to capture the sizzle and flow of Miami and have those pops of color that really put us there in the ‘90s.
Which look was your biggest challenge to create?
LE: I would say the bondage dress that our tailor had to create.
AL: It’s such an intricate garment, and to get it to fit the way it does was probably the biggest construction challenge. We had to have three of them made, including one to cut [on-camera].
Any favorite pieces that didn’t make it into the series?
LE: There was a lace dress that our tailor recreated that was really gorgeous on Penélope, the pink safety pin dress [that Penélope wears on the cover of Entertainment Weekly], and a pair of studded pants from the Western collection, but nobody gets to see those.
AL: There are more than 1000 studs on those pants! We’re still weeping.
Of the Versace items that you bought online, what was the biggest score you landed from a past collection?
AL: I remember a day we were crying with joy because we found a black leather fringed shirt for Penélope. It was from the exact year of the Miss S&M bondage period [fall 1992].
LE: Oh, yeah! There were tears that day—and now we have different kind of tears, because that also hit the cutting room floor.
In one episode, we see Donatella and Gianni each styling their own runway models in a sibling fashion face-off. What was it like to recreate that fashion show?
LE: Part of the storyline was Gianni and Donatella fighting, because it was back when all the really thin waif models were coming in. But Gianni wanted his models to have a life about them and have a healthy-looking figure. They were fighting between those looks, and we had 12 models, so we divided them up: 6 to look like Gianni’s models, 6 like Donatella’s.
AL: That fashion show very much represented the turning point in fashion from these happy supermodels with smiles on their faces and swagger in the hips to this more of a waif look. From a creative standpoint, we wanted to show that there was a difference between the Gianni models and the Donatella models. So there were instances of razor sharp black suits and dresses and then also the more colorful pieces and crystal mesh, which Gianni was famous for.
What was it like to work with Ricky Martin? Was he super involved in choosing his looks?
LE: We’re all in love with Ricky! He was pretty much like, “I’m the palette. Just use me.” He didn’t really have an opinion—he loved looking at the research and trying on clothes, but he was like, “You guys are the masters—do your work.”
AL: I’m just glad he got to wear a swimsuit, because he’s got an amazing physique and it looks good in everything. His clothes were a little more body-conscious.
Crime series aren’t usually so fashion-focused. How did the plot affect your process?
AL: It makes it challenging because when there’s murder involved, you need blood multiples [multiple versions of the same looks that will become blood stained]. There was also an undertone of how devastating this story was. That informed choices not just about how the clothes looked but how they felt. We tried to convey the tone.
This article originally appeared on Instyle.com