A good friend offers a personal glimpse of the glamour, the luxe and her loss
I slept in Gianni Versace’s bed. Of course, he wasn’t in it at the time, but I couldn’t help feeling that I was soaking up some of his aura. I believe that when we sleep, our soul leaves our body to be rejuvenated. Powerful and profound things happen to us in our bed at night, and energy accumulates and hovers above it. There was a lot of nervous energy around Gianni’s bed, and I must say I never slept very well in it. I kept wanting to leap out of the bed and do things: write poetry, smell the gardenias and jasmine that surrounded the house, gaze out my window at the magnificent lake and press my face onto the cool marble of any number of naked-men statues that filled his bedrooms. I didn’t know who they were. They could have been important Greek gods or just your standard Roman hunks, but they were lovely to look at and very distracting. There were ancient books to comb through. Old-master paintings to study and local architecture to marvel at. I was in heaven, but more important, I was envious of a person who had the courage to live life so luxuriously. I’m too practical for that.
I had been invited to stay in Gianni’s villa in Lake Como after shooting my second Versace campaign in Milan. I was thrilled to spend the Fourth of July in such a beautiful setting. I arrived with boyfriend and entourage in tow. As a special favor, I had asked Gianni if I could bring my friend Marjorie Gross, who was dying of cancer. She came along, and we all had to keep pinching ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming. Every evening at sunset we were served fresh Bellinis, which we sipped under the giant magnolia tree at the edge of the lake. The cook prepared delicious meals, the Sri Lankan servants waited on us with white gloves, and my dog Chiquita was taken for long walks by gorgeous Italian bodyguards with walkie-talkies. The captain of a large speedboat was always on standby to take us for our daily swim in the crystal-clear waters of the lake. Dirty clothes never stayed on the floor for more than a few seconds, and beautiful Versace gowns kept arriving. A new batch every day. I even wore one to dinner. I had this fantasy that I was in an Antonioni film and the shoot was going to go on indefinitely. I felt like a spoiled princess. “The Versaces really know how to live!” We kept repeating this over and over like a mantra.
Gianni phoned regularly to make sure that everything was O.K. and that we were all taken care of. I thought about asking if my dog could have a manicure, but I decided against it. Even Gianni must draw the line somewhere. In retrospect I think he would have said yes, and a pet groomer would have been delivered in a matter of minutes. The only person as generous as Gianni is his little sister Donatella, who embraces the beautiful things in life with the same fervor.
But let me be very clear. The Versaces work as hard as they play. Obviously we were enjoying the fruits of Gianni’s labor. Evidence of his work ethic was all over the house. There were sketches lying around everywhere. Art books were marked or open to pages that were obviously going to show up somewhere in his new designs, and millions of magazines were piled on tables, full of articles or advertisements showing his glamorous and sexy clothes. Page after page bursting with color and eroticism. This was a man with a mission. A force to be reckoned with. I was on vacation in his house. He was working.
Eventually my fantasy came to an end, and we all headed back to our lives that seemed dull in comparison. Gianni was probably designing his next collection, editing one of his books or building a new villa. Probably all three.
The last time I saw him was in the spring in Miami. Donatella had invited me over for a pre-Easter dinner. I went to Casa Casuarina with a few friends and found Gianni in great spirits. He was mesmerized by the blue nail polish on my daughter’s toenails. After dinner his niece Allegra sat at our feet and played with Lourdes while he talked about la dolce vita. He had kicked cancer, he was proud of his latest collection, and life was good. That’s when I launched into my speech about yoga and how good it would be for his mind, body and soul. He seemed open, and I gave him my yoga teacher’s number. I could totally imagine this extravagant Calabrian with a twinkle in his eye in the lotus position. The great yogis believe there is no end to life. I’m inclined to agree. Even though Gianni’s life on this earth has ended, his spirit is everywhere, and his soul lives forever.
I’m going to miss you, Gianni. We’re all going to miss you. But I’ve got a pocketful of memories in my Versace jeans, and they’re not going anywhere.
© Time Magazine