Deborah Ball’s 2010 book House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival shed additional light on the complicated power dynamic between Gianni and his 10-years-younger sister Donatella.
Gianni had known as a child that fashion was his first love, studying from his dressmaker mother and treating Donatella as his doll—creating clothes for her, encouraging her to bleach her hair, and shaping her as the mascot of his brand.
Donatella became Gianni’s shadow in the atelier [and] had a great knack for sizing up a dress or a pair of pants or a color palette and deciding whether it had that mysterious quality that would make it trendy.”
Though she has always projected a larger-than-life aura given her exaggerated look—bleach-blonde hair, bronzed skin, heavy makeup, and audacious clothing—Ball wrote that Donatella “was a serial self-belittler, homing in on every last physical imperfection.
She charmed people by betraying a bit of her vulnerability, but her insecurities unbalanced her.” Even by 2007, once she had righted her family’s fashion empire, the New Yorker ’s Laura Collins noted that she critiqued herself often, peppering the conversation with statements like, “I am petrified,” “I get very anxious,” and “I have a major talent to lose things.”
During the years when Gianni was sick —whether with a form of ear cancer, as the family maintains, or with H.I.V., as Vanity Fair contributor Maureen Orth claimed—Donatella found herself reluctantly taking the reins of the company.
In 2004 —seven years after her brother’s death—Donatella’s good friend Elton John, daughter Allegra, and son Daniel staged an intervention, and persuaded the designer to get treatment for her addiction.
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