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[00:00:00]

Heads up, this episode is bold, dangerous and explicit, are you describing Versace's clothes or the language? We're going to use both.

[00:00:16]

OK, it's early September, nineteen ninety seven in Milan, almost two months since Gianni Versace's murder. And this afternoon, near the city's ancient Roman cathedral, a somber group of four walks into the office of Germany's notary, Donatella.

[00:00:30]

Her husband, Paul Santo, and Johnny's boyfriend, Antonio. The notary has called them all together for the reading of Johnny's will. Almost exactly one year ago, he changed his will in a fit of anger. This feels big. Oh, it's bigger than big. Donatella is still an emotional wreck.

[00:00:49]

As soon as she sits down, she fishes a pack of Marlboro Reds out of her Versace bag. She lights a cigarette and takes a long drag to study her nerves. Of all things Donatella has faced in the last two months.

[00:01:02]

Losing Johnny, the horrible aftermath, the guilt and remorse, the reading of his well holds the least amount of dread. It's just a formality. She and Santo will split Jeanny shares, which means Santo, who owned more of the label to begin with, would end up in charge. Antonio will get a little money and that's that. Then she can go back to work. Finally, the notary enters and sits at his desk. His name is Luciano Severina.

[00:01:27]

Buongiorno. He says, I'm sorry. We must meet under these circumstances.

[00:01:33]

He opens a file folder and takes out Yannis Will Reesha. Would you like to do the honors? And Ragini Versace's last will and testament? Yes, I'm channeling my inner notary and a baritone voice. OK, here you go. On this date, September 16th, 1996, I, Gianni Versace revoked my last will dated May 11, 1990. Oh boy. Here comes I hereby name my niece Alegra, my sole heir.

[00:02:05]

Did you hear that? No.

[00:02:06]

What was it? The sound of a pin dropping. Everyone is silent. Donatella is so taken aback, she almost lets the cigarette burn her fingers. Jeanny owned the majority of the company and he just gave his entire stake to her eleven year old daughter. He's left nothing to Donatella and Santo, no shares in the company, no personal gifts, not even an antique plate or gold picture frame after what seems like an eternity. Donatella here Santo say if this is what Johnny wanted then we will respect his wishes.

[00:02:37]

This is a truly shocking turn of events.

[00:02:39]

Yeah, and Donatella is pissed not just because her beloved brother cut her out of his will, but because of the pressure her daughter is now going to face. Oh shit.

[00:02:48]

Yeah, I'm poor Santo. He gets royally screwed, his kids are completely left out and because Donatella is a Lakers mother, she gets to call the shots on her daughter's behalf until she's 18.

[00:02:59]

Donatella is now effectively in charge of Versace. About the only one who makes out all right is Antonio. He gets his choice of houses and a nice monthly allowance unless the family has anything to say about it, Santo warns him, you should find an attorney. This is all so messed up. Yeah, but Donatella can't think about this right now.

[00:03:19]

I mean, she still has a show coming up and an empire to save.

[00:03:26]

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[00:03:51]

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[00:04:15]

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[00:04:47]

Now it's up to Donatella to make sure the house of Versace carries on. This is Episode four, Make it Work.

[00:04:58]

It's October 9th, 1997, Milan, Italy. Donatella is sweating in the elegant garden courtyard just off the Versace showroom. The weather is unusually hot and humid a few minutes outside and she feels like she's wrapped in sticky gauze. Tomorrow is her day of reckoning. She has to present a brand new ready to wear collection at Milan Fashion Week, her very first as Versace's chief designer. Today's dress rehearsal is the last chance to work out any kinks for the outdoor event.

[00:05:29]

My beauties, she tells the models, please. Let's get going. Donatella has brought together a mix of Versace models for the show alums like Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, and part of the newer group that includes Kate Moss and Karen Elson.

[00:05:44]

Oh, it's the girl that she and Johnny fought about right before his last show.

[00:05:48]

Yes, it stings Donatella to remember all their fights. Now she's carrying the burden of the entire Versace house and can't stop thinking how disappointed everybody will be if she fails.

[00:05:59]

That's when she notices something by one of the cypress trees. It's a beautiful white butterfly. It flutters in the glare of the sunlight and then disappears. But a few seconds later, there it is again, hovering near the models and it doesn't go away. Donatella gets this feeling it's Giani. She thinks he's here.

[00:06:20]

OK, so I read about how butterflies are a sign of a visit from someone you love who recently died.

[00:06:26]

Yes, I read a lot about butterflies. You know, I love that stuff, though, but whatever it means, it comforts Donatella. She doesn't feel so alone. She tells herself, you can do this, just keep going. The next day, right before the show, Donatella holds a press conference. Keep it together, she tells herself. But when she speaks, her voice trembles.

[00:06:51]

These are clothes for a woman who is sweet and tough at the same time, someone who can survive life's catastrophes with dignity and stand on her own two feet.

[00:07:02]

Wow. She's talking about herself. It sounds like it, right? Yeah.

[00:07:06]

And then she breaks down and simply tells the truth. I'm terrified. Johnny is irreplaceable. I would like to be judged for what I am doing, not compared to him. If you compare me to him, I can only fall short.

[00:07:23]

That night, under a huge tent lit with sparkly lights, Donatella waits nervously and watches the best of the best designers show up and start to take their seats. People like Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld, who are all there to support her. But seeing them just adds to the pressure.

[00:07:43]

The stage lights dim, neon lights pulsate around the edge of the stage, and then the show begins. Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss are the first to walk out in silver metallic outfits. Naomi wears a sexy zippered pantsuit and Kate's in a skintight cocktail dress. The show is a collection of Giani signature looks, barely their dresses and sharply tailored suits in all sorts of prints. Johnny loved his prints shredded.

[00:08:10]

There are body hugging jumpsuits and short shorts, too, is a mash up of themes and ideas and colors like Donatella was trying to stay true to Johnny's vision and at the same time trying to dip her toe into something edgier, something more. Donatella. At the end of the show, everyone applauds, but when Donatella walks down the stage to take her bow, she looks like a broken doll. Her head is cast down, her eyes are welling up with tears.

[00:08:39]

The theme of the show isn't the clothes, it's grief. The crowd gives her a standing ovation. Backstage, Donatella falls into Giorgio Armani arms. She's a heaping mess of raw emotion. I miss Jeanny so much. Donatella cries. I've never felt so overwhelmed in my life. The press is respectful, but overall the feedback is lukewarm.

[00:09:05]

The New York Times says she hasn't quite mastered the fit of the sexy dress, but at least the review ends kindly with Mrs. Versace has room to grow, Lagerfeld is quoted as saying the collection is interesting.

[00:09:18]

Seems like a nice way to say not great.

[00:09:21]

Yeah, I imagine that's how she feels. Even if Johnny made a butterfly appearance, Donatella is the one left holding up the empire and she feels completely alone.

[00:09:33]

It's the morning of July 17th, 1998, Donatella is back in Paris at the Ritz Hotel and she's about to lose it in just 24 hours, she'll be mounting her very first couture show, but she's nowhere near ready. Nothing seems to be coming together. The workroom is abuzz with seamstresses struggling to finish close in time for the show.

[00:09:55]

Every few minutes, a few of them yell out cazzo, which means fuck.

[00:10:00]

OK, so that's much more fun to say in Italian. Flirty, sweet sewing, ladies cursing. Well, Donatello's team of newbie designers push them to use weird new fabrics like Tooele, mixed with copper fibers and metal woven with glass beads.

[00:10:15]

And the materials are difficult to sew. Donatella runs over to check out the latest mishap.

[00:10:20]

The angled hem the seamstress was working on is a mess. They'll have to start another garment from scratch. At this point, Donatella, nerves are more frayed than the ruined hemline, and she's questioning whether she made the right decision to launch the line at all.

[00:10:34]

But she can't back out now. She tries to focus on styling another dress when a scared looking assistant runs up scuzzy. But we have a request from Puff Daddy. There's going to be a star studded front row with the show, one of them being Sean Combs. And demands for backstage snacks have been streaming in. My God, what does he want?

[00:10:55]

Asks Donatella. She reads his list. Captain Crunch and Miracle Whip. What the hell is that? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down. Sean Combs AP Diddy Puffy or Diddy wants Captain Crunch at a fashion show.

[00:11:09]

I'm afraid to ask what the miracle whip is for me too. It's all too much for Donatella. She's in a fight or flight mode, so she makes a decision. She ducks in the bathroom and does some blow. Oh, boy. Yeah.

[00:11:22]

The Coke has been her way of keeping the demons at bay and pushing forward under the pressure to succeed. And finally, the moment of truth arrives.

[00:11:32]

Naomi Campbell is the first out on the runway in a tailored white sheath dress. She's followed by a parade of models, an edgy cocktail dresses and body hugging suits and wool and mohair. When it's over, she takes her bow and retreats as fast as she can to her hotel suite and waits for the reviews.

[00:11:51]

And they are devastating. People gave her a pass right after Johnny died and now the knives are out. The New York Times is especially brutal, saying, as was clear from the earliest days that they work together, Miss Versace's aesthetic is violently different from that of her brother. In other words, the opposite of the refinement of Kottoor. They also say the frayed clothes expose a hint of madness. Ouch. Yeah, Donatella tried to invoke something fresh and edgy with the collection, but she clearly missed the mark.

[00:12:24]

It's a monumental flop. After the disastrous couture show, Donatella tries to mask her fear that she's an impostor, a failure on the outside, she's as bubbly, as expensive champagne, but on the inside, she's a wreck.

[00:12:42]

Retailers aren't interested in this edgy new Versace. And then her marriage to the handsome Paul Beck takes a nosedive and they decide to separate in June. But the pressure doesn't let up. There are more shows on the calendar, more collections to design, and everyone's looking to Donatella. So who can blame her if she ups her intake of coke and starts making her own hours? She's often way behind schedule and demands spontaneous late night meetings to discuss new designs. It drives the old guard crazy, or at least what's left of them, and they start leaving in droves.

[00:13:17]

But who cares? She thinks she has new designers.

[00:13:20]

But I thought the stores don't like the new designs. True or the critics. The reviews go from bad to worse. There's this one from the Times that's so mean. The critic writes Her collection of torn T-shirts and jeans, skirts looks like it's been designed by a lecherous old groupie on break from a Grateful Dead tour. Wow.

[00:13:41]

That's worse than the review of my Bulimba performance in ninth grade. Is it, though? Of course, Donatella is super hurt by the reviews, but she's also overwhelmed.

[00:13:52]

It's like the House of Versace has a hive of buzzing bees with no queen to lead them.

[00:13:57]

And we all know what happens to a beehive without a queen, without her. Everyone dies.

[00:14:02]

Wow. Thank you, Professor Reesha, for that incredibly dark sidebar. But yeah, Versace is in trouble.

[00:14:10]

Sando tries to talk to her, but she doesn't want to hear it. Instead, she parties like it's 1999. Well, it is 1999. OK, Drew. Well, now she parties boldly snorting cocaine in front of her staff. And if that doesn't cheer her up, she spends money.

[00:14:26]

She has a personal glam squad with her at all times, just in case there's a loose piece of lint or a flyaway hair.

[00:14:33]

Her extensions cost one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in one year alone.

[00:14:38]

And there's this entitlement thing. If I raise my hand and flash the V sign, what do you think it means?

[00:14:44]

V for Versace? Nope.

[00:14:47]

It's a signal for her nearest bodyguard or assistant to grab a cigarette and quickly slide it between her fingers and then immediately light it. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I know.

[00:14:57]

I want to get to that level. Donatella is out of control and no one knows what to do about it. It's December 31st, 1999, and Donatella is ready to ring in the new year at her brother's beloved Casa Casa Arena in Miami, she's hosting an A-list party to say good riddance to the 90s.

[00:15:21]

And she's also saying good riddance to the CASA. Over the summer, she and Santo decided to put the mansion up for sale.

[00:15:27]

Since Diana's death, the villas turned into a tourist attraction for murder obsessed out of towners. Practically every time Donatella steps outside, there's someone posing for a photo on the steps where Jeanny died. Oh, that is so creepy. But that's not the only reason they want to unload it. They need the money. Thanks to Donatello's underwhelming design work, the house is an albatross around their necks. But Donatella is not thinking about that right now. All she wants to do is throw the party of the year.

[00:15:55]

Giani would want that, she thinks. Inside the gated stone walls, movers and shakers mingle with friends of the family. Jaylo talks movie deals with her manager. Under the frescoed ceilings of the living room, Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna sip bubbly and gossip under a ten thousand dollar imported palm tree in the garden. Oh, they're definitely brainstorming early goup ideas. Madonna probably like Gwen. I have an idea for you. Vagina scented candles. Young Donatella floats from guest to guest.

[00:16:26]

She smiles, make small talk, summons waiters to refill empty glasses. No one would guess she's a wreck under her five sets of eyelashes and Bakhtin tan except for her good friend Rupert Everett. So when she feels him tugging on her bracelets and pulling her into one of the ten bathrooms, she goes.

[00:16:45]

Donatella posts a bodyguard outside the door and she and Rupert perched on the side of the tub or maybe on the clothes toilet seat and get high.

[00:16:53]

And Donatella just lets it out. She's like, I feel like the whole world is looking at me with daggers in their eyes. They expect me to be Johnny. It's never enough. Anything new I try. They all just shake their heads.

[00:17:07]

Rupert wrote about it in his book Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins. He said people didn't see the depth of her sadness. She had built an image that became a prison. Nobody could see through that peroxided wall.

[00:17:22]

She and Rupert finally stumble out of the bathroom to celebrate the New Year with the other guests. But the early 2000s are going to be far from a celebration. Donatella will have to hit rock bottom before she can claw her way up. We get support from threat up, Threat Up is the world's largest online thrift store, with up to 90 percent of estimated retail.

[00:17:46]

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[00:18:24]

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[00:18:30]

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[00:18:37]

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[00:20:01]

It's October 2002, and Santo Versace is strolling the marble corridors of the Victorian Albert Museum in London tonight. The museum is opening the hottest exhibit of the year, a retrospective of Johnny's nearly 20 year career. But before the public has a chance to see it, Santo is taking a private tour. No Chaddy tour guides, no dozing security guards, no tourists wearing fanny packs, just Santo and dozens of mannequins decked out in his brother's most splendid designs.

[00:20:32]

He stops to marvel at the safety pin dress Giani designed for Elizabeth Hurley, the one that made her famous. Beside it, he studies the elegant dress Jeanny designed for Princess Di, the front embroidered with a glinting zigzag of blue and gold beads. It's beautiful enough to move a grown man to tears these clothes. He thinks they are magnificent. His brother was a true artist, a genius. He mourns the old days of Versace when everyone was aligned behind one visionary.

[00:21:02]

He wants to believe in his sister, but it's clear she doesn't have what Giani did. She won't even listen to Santo when he tries to explain that most of her designs can't be reproduced. They're too expensive.

[00:21:13]

And when she does manage to design something that's factory friendly, her team is so behind schedule that they sometimes send incomplete outfits to stores tops without bottoms, blouses without skirts, which means canceled orders and pissed off buyers.

[00:21:28]

For years now, Versace's profits have been dwindling. Now sales are down twenty five percent and Santo was pretty much given up trying to reason with his sister. Donatella has always been a big spender, but it seems like every day another bill from Donatella is landing on Santo's desk. Two million dollars for a diamond ring charge the company a complete renovation of her apartment.

[00:21:51]

Plus, she's still throwing epic parties, flying flowers and candles and DJs around the world, all on the company's dime.

[00:22:00]

Santos tried to find creative ways to bailout the ship after selling Kazakoff Sorina, he auctioned off Giants art collection. Together, they net more than 57 million dollars, but it's not enough. One of the few things he refused to give up were the dresses on display tonight. It's pretty much all that's left of Johnny's legacy.

[00:22:19]

Santo reaches the end of the exhibition. I imagine he takes a moment, maybe wipes away a tear or two, and composes himself and takes one last look at the mannequins. They represent everything Giani worked so hard to build and everything Donatella now seems destined to destroy.

[00:22:39]

Okay, that sounds a little dramatic. OK, maybe he's not thinking about it in such stark terms, but the show is a reminder for Santo.

[00:22:46]

The Versace label was great once it wowed the fashion world. It may have fallen on tough times, but who's to say it can't be great again?

[00:22:56]

So when he gets back to Milan, Santos springs into action, trying to shore up the label's finances. He puts out feelers for an outside investor, someone who can buy up some of the family shares and inject the label with some much needed cash.

[00:23:10]

But when Donatella finds out, she flips. If Santo expects her to give up shares in her company, well, then he's got another thing coming. And by another thing coming. I mean, Donatello's lawyers, she uses them to send a message. If he makes any moves without her, she'll force him out of the company. Wait, she can do that? She can. Donatella controls a laggers majority shares, which means as her guardian, she calls the shots at his ass is grass.

[00:23:38]

OK, what I've always wanted to say that this just felt like my opportunity, but it pretty much does stop any outside investor talk.

[00:23:47]

So for the next year, the label continues to bleed money. But now, instead of fighting in person, Santo and Donatella snipe at each other through intermediaries.

[00:23:56]

Honestly, I want to get an intermediary so that I can Skype with a lot of different people at once.

[00:24:01]

Yeah, good idea. But I mean, there are two hotheads who refuse to listen. Santo tells Donatella her clothes are unwearable. Donatella blames the factories for not being able to deliver what she makes, and their lawyers get in shape by walking back and forth between the siblings offices. But then comes a glimmer of hope. In March 2003, Donatella shows a new collection that features these corseted evening gowns and pastel colors. They catch the eye of Bergdorf Goodman, CEO.

[00:24:30]

Bergdorf is one hundred year old department store that's long been the crown jewel of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. Bergdorf stop selling Versace clothes years ago. But now the CEO is ready to give Versace another shot. He invites the label to put together a trunk show. This is the first sign of faith anyone has shown in Versace in a long, long time. I'm almost afraid it's what happens.

[00:24:52]

It's a hit. Versace is going to get a permanent home in Bergdorf flagship store, but pretty much right off the bat.

[00:25:01]

There's trouble. Erst Bergdorf asks for help designing the space, but Donatella and her team don't respond. Next, they ask Donatella to make a few personal appearances to excite shoppers and she blows them off. And then when they order a bunch of Versace designs, most of the clothes never arrive. OK, this is bad. Yeah, it's a total disaster.

[00:25:22]

After a few months, the CEO pulls the plug and turns the Versace space over to another brand. Donatella had a shot at redemption and she blew it.

[00:25:32]

And the weird part is Donatella just doesn't seem like she gives a shit or maybe she can't give a shit.

[00:25:38]

She's now mixing Coke with volume and other sedatives, not exactly a winning combo. And she goes on these weeklong binges where she's completely unreachable. Even when she pulls it together enough to show up at the office. She's not much use. She can't focus. She hears voices. Nothing she says makes any sense. It's so bad that her team is relieved when she doesn't show up at all without anyone to tell the designers what to do. The label has about as much direction as a monkey on a motorcycle.

[00:26:08]

Versace's February 2004 collection is so bad. It's such a hodgepodge that Women's Wear Daily sums it up in one word. Oops.

[00:26:19]

Meanwhile, Santo is desperately trying to stop the House of Versace's financial freefall, and in 2004 he finds a solution when he thinks even his sister will like. And that solution is named Tom Ford. Tom's just wrapped up a decade long run as Gucci's creative director. Now he's ready to pump his millions into a new label and he has his heart set on Versace. Donatella is actually open to the idea.

[00:26:46]

Well, I thought the last time Santo brought up the idea of investors, she wanted to strangle him. Well, you're right.

[00:26:50]

But this isn't some hedge fund manager investor. This is Tom Ford. The guy is a legend. And maybe having a hot shot designer around might take some of the pressure off. So in February 2004, Donatella takes a meeting with Tom, she barely has time to sit down and smooth out her skirt before he's reeling off his plans for revitalizing the Versace brand.

[00:27:12]

But he's got one condition. Donatella has to step down. He did not really say that he did. And he or she thought the whole point of bringing Tom on board was to find her a new collaborator. Now he wants to take away her company. She shouts back, This label is my life.

[00:27:30]

I'm not going anywhere. And then she storms out. You can probably guess what happens next.

[00:27:36]

She goes to the bathroom to snort a line. I mean, maybe, but I'm talking big picture. Tom retracts his offer. The Versace's just lost their one possible lifeline. Santo is now out of options. He has no choice but to go to the bank and tell them the hard truth. The company lost one hundred million dollars in the last year, losses made even worse by Donatello's wild spending.

[00:27:59]

Now there's a massive loan coming due and he has no way to pay it.

[00:28:06]

It's June 9th, 2004, a soft summer's night in Regio, and Donatella is back in her hometown. She hasn't been here in years. But when she heard that Elton John was playing a concert just a few miles away, she decided it was time to go home. It's not easy, of course.

[00:28:23]

There's so many memories here. When she pushes open the door to her childhood home, it feels like stepping back in time. She does a loop through the house, passing the bathroom where Johnny first dyed her hair blonde. Then she stops in the living room where she and Johnny often sat up till dawn talking about life.

[00:28:41]

When her Aunt Nora comes in, Donatella rushes into her arms and burst into tears. I mean, here she is back at home where she and Johnny used to dream of a future far away where they could make beautiful clothes together.

[00:28:55]

Now he's gone and the business is failing and she's a wreck. Maybe a few piano ballads by her friend Elton will make her feel better. Normally, Elton John shows are wild and over-the-top, but tonight he's decided to pare it down. No crazy wild outfit and giant backup band is just him performing solo with a simple black piano, Elton Unplugged.

[00:29:20]

He's glad Donatella will be here tonight.

[00:29:22]

He hasn't seen her much since her brother died, although he's heard rumors about her drug use and the stress and pressure he feels for her. He knows Johnny's shoes are hard to fill and he knows how much she loved him.

[00:29:34]

The stage lights dim and out and strolls up to the piano. Then he launches into your song. As the final chord rings out, he turns to the audience and says, I want to dedicate this whole show to my good friend Gianni Versace.

[00:29:52]

And the crowd erupted in applause. Elton looks off stage for Donatella, hoping she'll hear the love from the crowd, but when he sees her, she's not cheering. She's sobbing like shoulder shaking, mascara, running everything in my life as a mess. Kind of sobs to Elton. She looks like a woman who has hit rock bottom, someone in desperate need of help.

[00:30:23]

It's June 30th, 2004, Milan Donatella is putting the finishing touches on a 18th birthday cake, Allegra's 18th birthday also heralds another big milestone. She's about to inherit her majority shares and the Versace company.

[00:30:39]

It hasn't always been easy for her growing up. She was a quiet kid, never cause trouble, always followed the rules pretty much did what her mother said. But in every press photo I could find, she looks sad and sort of pensive. Sure, she spent holidays with the kids of famous celebrities and took private jets everywhere, but it's been lonely.

[00:31:00]

Her mother travels a lot, so she's surrounded by nannies. And ever since her uncle Johnny died, things have gotten worse.

[00:31:07]

Her mother's always stressed out. Bodyguards follow her everywhere. Kids gossip about her in the halls and she gets really thin.

[00:31:16]

Everyone suspects she has an eating disorder, but it's not something people say out loud, especially in fashion circles where laxatives and crash diets are pretty much the norm. I mean, it's already hard to be a teenage girl. I can't imagine throwing all this on top of that. Oh, my God save.

[00:31:32]

But she's smart, like, really smart. And in her senior year, she's accepted into an Ivy League college. Most kids her age would be sending emails and texts to their new dorm mate and buying meal plans for the year.

[00:31:44]

Allegra might be doing some of that, but she also has to figure out what to do about inheriting half of the shares of a multimillion dollar company. So she hires a lawyer as an adviser. She's not sure yet what he's going to advise her on, but she wants to make sure her interests are looked after. But right now, she's not thinking about any of that. She needs to focus tonight. She has to do one of the bravest things she's ever done in her life and her mom is not going to like it.

[00:32:11]

The rum soaked cannoli cake is set. The Dom Perignon is chilling, but Donatella Versace is on edge when an assistant walks by with a giant arrangement of red roses, she freaks out. These are the wrong color, she yells. Then she apologizes. Then she starts crying, which turns into a shrill laugh.

[00:32:31]

These mood swings aren't exactly new. As a matter of fact, they're getting worse. She swings from tears to hysteria to aggression and back again. She's got everyone tiptoeing around her. Later, after Donatella puts on her evening gown and loads herself up with jewelry, she tries to put on her charming hostess face.

[00:32:51]

This is a laggers big day, after all.

[00:32:54]

But as soon as the guests start to arrive, she realizes she's all nerves and slips away to the bathroom. She emerges a few minutes later, feeling way better.

[00:33:03]

She's chatting away with her guests when the doorbell rings. And surprise, it's Elton John. I'm surprised Donatella didn't invite him, but of course, she's happy he's here. She hasn't seen him since the concert in Regio Elton motions Donatella into another room. A few family members trailed behind, including Alegra, Santo and her ex-husband, Paul.

[00:33:25]

Meanwhile, Donatello's assistants discreetly ask the remaining guests to leave Donatella like, what is going on here? No one says anything. And then Elton speaks up. He basically says, Donatella, we love you, but you are destroying yourself, your family and the company you've helped to build. We can't force you, but you need to go to rehab. Oh, my God. It's an intervention. Remember when Elton saw her sobbing in the wings at a show?

[00:33:54]

Yeah. He knew he had to do something. So he called Donatello's assistant and her family said they needed to take action together. If they didn't, they were enabling her. And if she didn't get help, she could die.

[00:34:07]

This is a real wake up call.

[00:34:09]

Elton gives the floor to Donna Taylor's family and they begin to share stories of the hurt that she caused them because of her drug use. Through tears, Alegra pleads with her to get help. And then Santo, she can see his pain in spite of all of their fights.

[00:34:23]

Donatella knows she's sick and that she's been in denial. What would Jeanny think?

[00:34:27]

She wonders, finally out and breaks into her thoughts and says there's a private jet waiting to take you to the facility.

[00:34:35]

She looks up at Elton and says something like, I'll go only if there's low fat food. I want shrimp and grilled seafood, no oil or salt.

[00:34:44]

A few minutes later, she takes off her gown and her diamonds and slips into a jogging suit and puts on some comfy bags for the long flight. Oh, my God, Alicia, how dare you? Donatella still has stilettos on when she gets on the plane and heads to Arizona.

[00:35:02]

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[00:35:30]

Wow, Brooke. That was like poetry.

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Sleep better naturally go to a waras sleep dotcom and use discount code rich. That's W a r a sleep dotcom code rich. Less than 24 hours after her intervention, Donatella checks into a high end rehab facility called the Meadow's, which is sort of funny considering the places in the middle of the desert, she might as well have landed on Pluto.

[00:36:34]

She's that far away from her five star Versace life. In fact, she has no clue where or what Arizona is.

[00:36:42]

That night, she collapses in her tiny dorm style room on her tiny twin bed as limp as a rain soaked kitten.

[00:36:49]

She's exhausted from crying, but she's ready to clean up her act at five forty five a.m. sharp the next day, the meaning of rehab sinks in. It's more like a tough love boot camp.

[00:37:02]

Her uniform goes from leopard print and leather to oversized t shirts and loose pants. Nurses collect daily urine samples for drug screenings.

[00:37:11]

She gets a paper name tag with Donatella VA written out in Sharpie. I'm guessing there's no glam squad or anyone to light her cigarettes.

[00:37:18]

Yeah, that's not going to fly here. And cell phones are banned. There's virtually no contact with civilization other than spotting the occasional jackrabbit from her window. And then the hard work really starts.

[00:37:31]

She has to go inward and deal with her feelings. I can't even imagine how deep that well is. Feelings about the murder of her brother, the effect of her drug use on her daughter, fights with her brother feeling like an imposter as the head of Versace. Her schedule is packed with spirituality discussions, art therapy, psychiatry sessions, group therapy, plus 12 step meetings.

[00:37:55]

Donatella is horrified by the thought of sharing her secrets in front of strangers, but she finds her voice.

[00:38:01]

Donatella works through a lot of guilt and depression about Jeanny, and Alegra flies in for an extended family healing session. Five weeks later, Donatella leaves the meadows a different woman. For the first time in decades, she's clean and sober and praying she stays that way.

[00:38:22]

Well, Donatella was in rehab, Santo was struggling to find a solution for the one hundred and twenty three million dollar loan payment that was now due to the bank users, big users.

[00:38:33]

Versace had nowhere near that kind of money in its coffers, but he manages to strike a deal to avoid default. The bank insists on installing a new board of directors that will answer only to them, and Santo has to step down. They'll allow Donatella to stay as lead designer, but someone has to replace her as chief executive.

[00:38:52]

Yeah, that's a lot of demands and I haven't even gotten to the biggest. One of all, the new CEO will have six months to prove that Versace can turn a profit. If he doesn't deliver, the bank is going to liquidate everything. But Santo agrees. I mean, his hands are tied as a show of good faith. He helps out with the search for a new chief executive.

[00:39:12]

One name rises to the top. Giancarlo D'Errico. D'Errico is this fashion exec with a reputation for swooping in to reorganize troubled companies. He already saved Fendi from ruin.

[00:39:25]

D'Errico has a no nonsense management style. He works 18 hour days and subsists entirely on strong cappuccino's. OK, so he must pop a lot of toms. While his acid reflux isn't the point, what matters is that the bank thinks he's the right man for the job.

[00:39:41]

But the rules of the corporation state, he needs a majority shareholder to agree, which means Santo needs to talk to Alegra. She now has 50 percent stake, but when he raises the idea to her, she's not sure what to do. So she turns to her adviser for a crash course in finance in August. Allegra is ready to make her decision. This is the part where a bunch of suits are on some huge table in a conference room, each say yay or nay.

[00:40:06]

I have no idea. But I'd assume they were somewhere in a boardroom with marble sense. You know, it's Italy when it's time for Allegra to cast her vote on whether D'Errico is in, she says.

[00:40:18]

That our Zoome called a. No, I'm raising the tension, OK?

[00:40:23]

Yes, Giancarlo D'Errico is now Versace's new CEO for Santo. It's a bittersweet moment. The company he loves and bought his hard into for almost 30 years has a chance to live on. The bitter part is that it's going to happen without him. While he still holds a cochairmen title, he won't have any power at all. Wow.

[00:40:44]

I feel like Santa is a casualty in this whole saga to all of them, actually.

[00:40:49]

And now, with no nonsense to Recio in charge, Donatella is going to have a new boss, one who intends to control every move she makes of Versace.

[00:40:58]

She better start drinking some cappuccinos.

[00:41:02]

It's October 2004. Donatella is three months out of rehab and her nerves are as jangly as the gold bangles on her wrist. She's about to debut a new collection, her first since sobering up and returning to work. Just getting here sober, reaching this point where the lights dim in the models lined up one by one ready to sashay down the catwalk. It's been the hardest thing she's ever done. Donatella has treated this show like her shot at redemption, not just with the critics and buyers, but with her staff, too.

[00:41:35]

She knows she let them down. In the past, they needed a leader. Instead, they got a rambling train wreck who was as high as a kite every time she showed up at work, if she bothered to show up at all. So in the run up to this show, she did everything differently, like arriving at the studio every morning at 10 a.m. on the dot when she was high all the time. The smallest decision could leave her quaking.

[00:41:57]

Now she's leading with the self-assurance of a Roman emperor. Use the black zipper, taken this hem, turn the curling iron six degrees, counterclockwise. Hellyeah, Donatella.

[00:42:09]

So are the clothes any good? That's for the critics and the crowd to decide. When the show begins, Donatella grabs her assistant's hand and squeezes it like a wet sponge. They watch as the models make their loops up and down the runway. They're wearing simple silk dresses, white gowns embellished with crystals and pantsuits, fit for a badass businesswoman. At the end of the show, when Donatella let go of her assistants hand and heads for the stage, she's got to be wondering what am I going to find out?

[00:42:40]

Their fans or executioners?

[00:42:44]

As she takes her first step onto the catwalk, the audience erupts and applause and everyone leaps to their feet. A huge smile of relief spreads across her face. She peers into the crowd, and there's Santo applauding his heart out to. They're probably both thinking the same thing. Versace is back. Over the next three years, Donatella churns out one winning collection after another and sales start to pick up and the cherry on top of the sun, she's learning to trust her own creative instincts.

[00:43:16]

She spent years trying to live up to Giani by mimicking his sexy, colorful designs. Now she leans into her own style and it's different from her gothic haunted look of before it's sophisticated and restrained. One year she designs an entire collection in white, something Johnny never would have dreamed of. In February 2007, after unveiling another fabulous collection, one of Donna Taylor's deputies gets a call from the head of Bergdorf Goodman. Isn't that the guy who banished Versace from his store after Donatella failed to deliver?

[00:43:50]

Yeah, that's the one. Now he's singing a different tune. He says, congratulations on a truly beautiful show.

[00:43:58]

We're ready to move forward. That same month, Donatella takes a trip to Los Angeles to attend an awards ceremony. It's predictably celebrity filled Jaylo. Drew Barrymore and Prince are there, along with all those supermodels whose careers Donatella changed back in the 90s. Donatella is being awarded a star on the Rodeo Drive walk of style, a star she'll share with her brother Johnny. It's recognition after all these years that she's not just his muse, she's also his equal stop.

[00:44:27]

You're going to make me cry. Believe me, I cried when I read this part of the story, too. With Derek's help, Versace start selling branded sunglasses and bags and designing the interiors of private jets and seven star hotels. There's no such thing as a seven star hotel. Oh, my God, Horatio, you're so poor.

[00:44:44]

I'm just saying no, but there is in Dubai. But the denouement, as they say in fancy literature, is Versace breaks even, then turns a profit and finally pays off its loans in 2009. The ratio is like my work here is done. Donatella learned a lot from him, but she's happy she can run the label how she wants alongside the two people she loves most in the world. Allegra and Santo Versace started as a family business and now it is one again.

[00:45:16]

And that pretty much brings us up to the present.

[00:45:19]

It's been 23 years since Johnny was murdered and nearly 45 years since he first left Regio for Milan. Versace has never been far from the public eye. Books and TV shows have made sure of that. And of course, celebrities are still wearing their clothes. Two years ago, Donatella, Allegra and Santo decided to sell Versace to a luxury company called Capri Holdings, which also owns Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo. They thought it would help the label grow faster and they were right.

[00:45:47]

Today, Versace is a lifestyle. You can stay in Versace hotels. You can buy five hundred dollar dinner plates with Medusa heads on them. They've even got dog leashes. So the Versace family is like retired now? No, they all still work for the label. Santo's, the president, Alegra, the director, and Donatella as head designer isn't showing any signs of slowing down. She's been through it all. Addiction, family tragedy, huge losses.

[00:46:15]

And as her friend Elton says, she's still standing in her six inch stiletto slippers. This is the final episode of our four part series, The House of Versace. If you like our show, please give us a five star rating and a review and be sure to tell your friends subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify, the Wonder Free App or wherever you're listening right now. Join hundred plus in the laundry app to listen ad free and the episode notes you'll find some links and offers from our sponsors.

[00:46:50]

Please support them.

[00:46:51]

Another way to support us is to answer a short survey at Wonder eCom survey. We use many sources when researching our stories like Vanity Fair, New York Magazine and Vogue. But we especially recommend two books, Vulgar Favors by Maureen Orth and House of Versace by Deborah Ball. I'm Brooks Ephron. And I'm Orisha Skidmore Williams. Celia Finkelstein wrote this episode. Our editor is Ladona Ibota. Keila Bissinger is our producer, audio assistant by Sergio Enriquez. Sound design is by James Morgan.

[00:47:23]

Our executive producers are Stephanie Gen's marshmallowy and Hernan Lopez for wondering what. Hey, have you heard what other listeners have to say about the new one Wandrille on the wonder if I was quickly able to find a bunch of podcasts that interested me? I especially enjoying life is short with just a month.

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I love that the app knows what episode is next and automatically plays them in the right order. No other podcast player does that and it saves me so much time clicking around.

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