Donatella Versace was never going to get left behind in the season of the supermodel. After all, as the person who convinced her brother Gianni to have the model stars of George Michael’s Freedom video walk the Versace runway lip-syncing the song in 1991, she pretty much invented the concept.
This catwalk season has seen a four-strong supermodel cameo at Vogue World in London and Christy Turlington in gold lamé at Ralph Lauren in New York, but Donatella had an ace up her sleeve in the shape of Claudia Schiffer. With Barbie dolls created in homage to her long career in modelling, Schiffer has been all but retired after walking Yves Saint Laurent’s farewell show in 2002. She has made only one appearance since, in a 2017 Versace show marking the 20th anniversary of Gianni’s death, but she returned to the catwalk in Milan at Versace’s show on Friday night.
Versace invited Schiffer to star in a show which paid homage to two classic Gianni Versace collections from 1995, a year when Schiffer was the face of every Versace catwalk and of a billboard campaign shot by Richard Avedon.
Cute, lemon-sorbet tailoring, flickable blonde hair and teeny handbags brought back to life the spirit of the year when Friends was in its television prime and Clueless was in cinemas. Schiffer, who wore a lithe pistachio metal-mesh evening gown and smiled broadly to an audience which included her 18-year-old daughter Clementine, attending her first fashion show, told Vogue she had accepted the call-up because Donatella “is a wonderful, warm-hearted, gentle, genuine, nice person”.
Nineties nostalgia is big business in pop culture right now, so it was a power move to remind the assembled fashion industry that Versace can lay claim to the irony-laden cuteness of the era – and the power move is the ultimate Versace look. At an early preview in the grand marble-slabbed corner office from which Donatella presides over Versace’s new Milan headquarters, the designer, dressed in a black dress and 8-in platform heels, was keen to point out that “a powerful woman is still powerful in sorbet colours”.
At the show, twinsets in toothachingly-sweet pastels were paired with hot pants, sharp minidresses with buckled Mary Jane flats. There was gingham in every shade of the ice-cream parlour, and magpie-shiny hair clips that looked like pocket money treats. The iconic Versace metal-mesh shimmied past on Gigi Hadid as well as on Schiffer. The signature medusa-head hardware which first appeared on Versace pieces in 1995 was supersized in pastel colours on to a new beach-sized Athena tote bag. The 1990s tone was offset with 1960s touches on the catwalk: from Schiffer’s Bardot-style fringe, to the Jane-Birkin-in-St-Tropez ultra-abbreviated dresses.