I went to the NY Times building for one of their "Talks" with a newsmaker. I enjoy that series a lot - from Julian Schnabel to Helen Mirren, they often have very insightful and eloquent guests. I wish I could say that applied to Donatella Versace, who was being interviewed last night by the editor of the Times' T Magazine, Stefano Tonchi.
He seemed very nervous, perhaps daunted by his bigger than life guest, who has been his one of the people he most admires since the days when he was a teenager in Italy. They must have met quite a few times in the past though, so it was a little surprising to see him much more hesitant than usual. She was very gracious and in seemed in fact quite approachable and with a good sense of humor. There was something endearing to the way she would look in completely random directions for the person in the audience who was asking a question, probably because she was blinded by the spotlights. But however glamorous the background images of her shows, and they certainly were, her answers were never particularly revealing. Part of it must come down to the language barrier. But one would think that this was not her first time at the rodeo, and that she might have had more engaging conversations in English before. She believes in working hard, in being fearless and free. Who doesn't?
The most moving moments came when she spoke about her brother of course, how much she loved him and still misses him every single day. What she has accomplished is quite extraordinary: when Gianni Versace was killed, quite a few predicted the quick demise of the house that he had built. And yet, all those years later, the brand is strong and Donatella's latest collection this past February received high marks. Her success reminded me of a question that was once asked of the marketing director at Martha Stewart's company, right after Versace's death: what would happen if Martha knew the same fate? He promptly quipped "well, we sure couldn't call the magazine Martha Stewart Living anymore".