If the Versace story were to be presented as fiction, people would dismiss it as fantasy—too full of flash and scandal to possibly ring true. Consider the bitter family feuds, Gianni Versace’s murder, his sister Donatella’s cocaine ad­ diction and her daughter’s public battle with anorexia. Then add the celebrity friends (Sting, Elton John, Princess Diana), the company’s re­ versals of fortune (from being val­ ued at more than $1 billion in 1997 to near bankruptcy in 2004) and the whispered underworld connec­ tions. Deborah Ball, a European correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, interviewed 220 people to write House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival, a definitive portrait of the famous fashion family that’s sure to be the juiciest read of the summer.

How did you start researching House of Versace?
“The Versace story is such a sensitive one that it had to be done in a bulletproof way—to be accurate down to the last detail. It helped that the family agreed to par­ ticipate; this is the first book that they have ever been involved in. Donatella sat with me twice. Santo [the eldest brother] sat with me six times. I vis­ ited Calabria [the Versace family’s hometown] a couple of times, and I interviewed Donatella’s college roommate, Gianni’s partner, Antonio D’Amico, plus styl­ ists, PR reps and busi­ ness people such as Domenico de Sole of the Gucci Group. I also met with friends like Anna Wintour and Naomi Campbell.”

Anna Wintour comes across as being surprisingly warm.

“Anna had won­ derful stories about Gianni and Donatella. She made Gianni in the United States by putting him in Vogue. They used to vacation to­ gether; Donatella invited Anna and her kids down to the Miami man­ sion. At a show at the Metropolitan Museum in 1997 [after Gianni’s death], Anna became very emotional when she recounted the monthly fax that Gianni would send her com­ menting on each issue of Vogue.”

What surprised you the most about what you learned?
“The portrait of Donatella given by her family and friends is so different from her kamikaze blond image. So many people told me that she is the funni­ est and most compassionate person they’ve ever met. They would give me examples of her generosity, like when she gave an employee her dia­ mond earrings so that she would have ‘something borrowed’ for her wedding. Donatella has her de­ mons, of course, but she’s the first to talk about them. The worst thing that could have happened to her, personally and professionally, hap­ pened, and she overcame it.”

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