Diva Wear on the Cheap

by by Eve Marie Blazo

Imagine a leopard print silk skirt with a lagoon at sunset stamped across the crotch. Pair with tropical beachscape bomber jacket and banana leaf print leggings. And all this for just under $100.

For those on a budget with a predilection for lavishness, Versace’s collection for H&M is wish fulfillment at its finest. The designer Donatella Versace will launch womenswear, menswear and homeware lines for H&M starting November 17.

Versace lines have always been characterized by short, tight, and sequined designs—and, according to the Daily Beast, originally inspired by Italian hookers. Founded in 1978 by Donatella’s brother Gianni Versace, the brand combined the expert artistry of haute couture with a nightclub sensibility. The brand’s lurid patterned prints and midriff-baring ensembles epitomized the salad days of the late 80s supermodel era. Verging on vulgar, Gianni made tackiness almost enviable. Unlike other Italian megabrands Armani or Valentino, Versace is the antithesis of understated elegance. Versace’s flamboyant, taste-be-damned gaudiness was saved only by the use of luxe materials and a high price point. But now that the garments are more affordable, luxury is an empty signifier. If tacky plus expensive equals high fashion, then tacky and cheap is just tacky.

Restraint, however, was never the goal. “Versace is about sex, about looking hot, and about rock ‘n’ roll,” Love Magazine editor Katie Grand told The Guardian in June. “Wearing Versace is about not being afraid to let a dress say quite a lot about you. It's not for wallflowers.”

The H&M collection is an homage to the tigerish sex appeal of Gianni’s iconic creations, featuring offshoots and revivals of Gianni’s greatest hits. There is even a black dress with gold hardware harking back to the label’s safety-pin gown made infamous by Elizabeth Hurley in 1994. Some items border on caricature or kitsch. (Think baroque gold detailing, beaded fringe, and body-conscious dresses in shiny, garish colors.) Menswear is just as sensational as its feminine counterpart, notably including a fuchsia suit with matching pants and shoes, gold studded black leather trousers, and second-skin shirts emblazoned with palm trees and blue skies.

Versace’s “Iconic Collection” is one of H&M’s most anticipated high-end/mass-market marriages. The retailer has been collaborating with big-name designers since 2004, starting with Karl Lagerfeld, and later partnering with contemporary designers like Stella McCartney and haute couture houses like Viktor & Rolf and Lanvin. “There’s been a lot of minimalism [in fashion] that I felt we should do something a little more crazy, maximalist,” H&M Creative Advisor Margareta van den Bosch told “Versace is one of the most important brands of recent times, and their collection for H&M will be glamorous and flamboyant—everything Versace stands for.”

Donatella had initially refused to jump on the designer-discount bandwagon when approached by the chain in 2008, explaining to New York Magazine, “I work very hard to put the Versace line in the luxury section. I think to put the Versace line in H&M would confuse the brand.” Allegedly, after seeing the success of the Lanvin and Jimmy Choo collaborations with H&M, even Donatella could not ignore the appeal of mass-market success. “Young people like to dress up and look cool…I know this customer. I know what they want,” Donatella told the Associated Press,“They follow music, fashion. For the new generation, it’s all pop culture.” Donatella knows what her customer wants: easy, fun, and cheap—Snooki.