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A quick note. We're going to be swearing in this episode. Yeah, but we promised to wash our mouth out with soap as soon as we're done recording. Speak for yourself.
Imagine it's late, nineteen ninety five, Paris, France, and you are Gianni Versace. OK, give me a sec. Hey, what are you doing?
I have to get into character. You know, I've always wanted to step into Versace suede loafers. Well, now you're taking those suede loafers down a side street with your boyfriend Antonio, pressing your face up to the glass of every chic little antique shop you pass. You're hunting for a perfect little something, something to furnish your Miami home. You tighten the black cashmere scarf around your neck. It's a chilly day in the city of light. The sky is moody and gray, which is kind of the weather equivalent of how you felt for the last year.
You've been knocked on your heels by cancer and stabbed in the back by Donatella. At least that's how you read the situation. The way you see it, your baby sister is nothing but a showboater who's trying to steal your spotlight. You're convinced that by giving her more responsibility, you created a monster or a Medusa head. Yeah, except with platinum blonde snakes. But in spite of the feud with Donatella, you're feeling hopeful. You're getting a little stronger.
And the Versace brand is kicking serious ass. Your company is worth nearly two billion dollars and you're going to spend some of it buying decor for your 23000 square foot palace in Miami.
Well, I hope I'm getting a basketball hoop and a vending machine like in big.
Your taste leans more toward grown up as you near the end of the block, you spot a fabulous antique shop, a kind of place where a bronze toothpick holder goes for fourteen hundred dollars.
When you walk in, the manager recognizes you immediately and hops to attention, scurrying around and snapping fingers at employees.
A vintage bottle of Dom Perignon appears as you stroll around sipping bubbly.
Your eyes fall on a Louis the 14th console, an insanely ornate gold and marble table. Bellissima, you say bellissima. That would be perfect in the sitting room.
Next, you notice a wall of intricately carved wood paneling. You turn to Antonio and ask, Don't you think that will look exquisite in the hallway? Why, yes, I do. Your Giani, not Antonio. Right? I think I'm getting drunk on the champagne and you've already bought it.
You whip out your checkbook, grab a few more things while he's ringing you up and hustle back to the Ritz to warm myself up in a bubble bath.
OK, put down the bubbly.
That's enough imagination for me for today.
When Giani and Antonio get back to their suite, Antonio scans the antique shop bill. He's used to Giani spending habits, but this one takes the cake seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. But Johnny doesn't care. This is my money, he says. And how else can I possibly furnish all my homes?
And he's not done yet. There are more antique tapestries, Roman statues, deckchairs and vases to buy and art.
He wants to be known as a world renowned collector with pieces to rival the best museums.
So he snaps up paintings by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Picasso.
Twenty paintings by Picasso. By the time he's done with his month long buying binge, the bills tally twenty three million dollars. But I mean, what's twenty three million dollars when you're Gianni Versace?
Well, that's the thing, Johnny spending spree is going to fracture one of his closest relationships and cause him to make a drastic decision, one that's going to affect the future of the entire Versace empire.
Is this the part where the music does that dramatic end thing?
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From wonderingly, I'm Brooke Szifron, and I'm Trisha Skidmore Williams, and this is Even The Rich. In our last episode, Donatella took on a bigger role at the Versace label after Johnny was diagnosed with cancer.
But when she starts making decisions on her own, Jeanny isn't happy. And now there's trouble heating up with his brother Santo, too. This is Episode three on the Rocks section.
OK, Erica, it's Millán. Early 1996, Santo is pacing his office, waiting for his brother Johnny to arrive and he is fit to be tied.
Johnny's assistant has sent him stacks of itemise bills and Santo's been going through the figures for hours on his calculator. He still can't fathom how Johnny managed to spend 23 million dollars over the course of several months. Santo is the money guy for all things Versace, and it's an enormous responsibility. It falls on him to allocate money for new collections, payrolls, investments, shops, advertising. The list goes on not only for the company, but for Johnny and Donatello's personal spending as well.
When Johnny finally blows in Santo Lights and to him he basically says to Johnny, Look, you said you needed maybe three million to decorate. And I said, OK, then you ask me for more. And I said, Sure, you are my brother and you're like, nice things. I'll make it work. And then I get this bill. It's like a knife through my heart, 23 million dollars. It's the sign of a mad king. OK, so Santo is pretty dramatic.
OK, well maybe I embellished just a little bit, but he was really mad and now Johnny is enraged to the company is mine.
I built it using these hands. If I want to spend my money, I should be allowed to spend it. Which in theory makes sense, right? Yeah, except Johnny spends so much more than he earns that Santo has to dip into the company's coffers to pay off his debts. He's tired of fielding calls from the credit card companies asking to up the limit on Johnny's cards. So the next time they call, he says no, the limit is enough.
Johnny is cut off the rest of the month.
At around the same time as all the drama with Santo, something else happens, Johnny's doctor calls he's cancer free.
Seriously, that's amazing. I know for more than a year, Johnny felt like he was being held hostage by his illness. He was terrified that he might not beat it now that he's in remission. It's like a new lease on life, a chance to continue what he started.
Gianni Versace is back and now he's got to deal with all of these family problems. He's still seething about the fights with Donatella when she tried to go behind his back and change the models in the last show. And then there's Santo trying to tell him how to spend the money he's earned, but now he's ready to take back control. In an interview around that time, he says, Every day that I live, from now on, it's my party and I can cry if I want to.
No tears, but he's ready to shake things up.
It's August 1996 and Johnny and Antonio have been invited to dinner at the home of British royalty.
Oh, my God, the queen. No, Sir Elton John.
Elton's house is pretty fabulous, too.
He has hand painted frescoes on the ceiling and giant columns covered in gold leaf.
Oh, and antique carpets that are bigger than my apartment. It's classic, yet totally over-the-top. Hugh Grant is there with his girlfriend model Elizabeth Hurley.
She's been a huge fan of Johnny's ever since he made her this stunning black dress with a slit down the side held together by big gold safety pins. It was the dress seen around the world and it pretty much made her famous. To this day, people still call it that dress.
Johnny also brought along his beloved aunt Norah, who has been close to ever since he was a little boy in Reggio.
As the five of them mill about sipping cocktails, Elton mentions they're waiting for one final guest on cue, a newly divorced and positively glowing Princess Diana arrive.
That a hush fall over the room, I'm sure. But she's got this way of making everybody feel special. So it's like she's the belle of the ball, charming everyone in the room.
There's even a name for it. The Diana effect. And the princess has long been a fan of Johnny's clothes.
So he's in heaven. He whips out these little boxes and presents Diana, Norah and Elton with diamond studded watches as gifts as Hugh and Elizabeth stand by.
Sipping their champagne. Awkward.
Yeah, he's probably like Liz. I already made you famous. What more do you want from me? But the next day, as Johnny heads back to the city, he's quiet. He stares out the window at the green rolling countryside. Then he turns to Nora and says something like, Nora, I've come to one of the most important decisions of my life.
He tells her about all the fights with Donatella and Santo, how they don't respect him as a leader and how he can't move past the bad blood. And then he says, if anything happens to me, I've decided that I'm not leaving them my company, I'm changing my will.
So why would you do this? She asks. This is your family. But Johnny insists his siblings have enough money to last ten lifetimes. Nora figures he's just hurt family's fight and makeup. Give it a few days and Johnny will cool off and come to his senses.
Except he doesn't.
Two weeks later, he walks into his notary's office and drafts a new two page will, one that will change the course of Versace forever. And he doesn't tell anyone. It's July 5th, nineteen ninety seven Japanese back at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, going through the final dress rehearsal for his fall winter couture show, it's one day away. And the tension between him and Donatella. Well, let's just say it's about to blow up bigger than Mount Vesuvius.
Giani is back to being the creative mastermind behind the Versace label, and Donatella is back to number two. Donatella is not thrilled about this new old arrangement.
She's got so used to calling the shots while Johnny was sick that it's hard for her to go back to being second fiddle. And even though Johnny still craves her opinions and calls her almost every day, any time he says he wants something done a certain way, she fumes, especially for this collection. Donatella has picked out the model she wants to use, and they're from the school of minimalism, gaunt and waif like. Well, Johnny has brought back his favorites like Naomi Campbell, and they each do completely different stylings.
Johnny is leaning into more color per usual. Meanwhile, Donatello's girls are wafting through an all black with ghostly white faces and smudged eye makeup. So the looks are not melding together. Well, like the judges from Project Runway say, you need a cohesive vision. And for this show, there's even more at stake.
The fashion world knows Johnny has been out of commission because of his cancer. This is his chance to prove that he can still carry the crown of trailblazing designer. So he's really feeling the heat.
It all comes to a head when a new model named Karen Elson comes to rehearsal. She's only 18, but the IT girl of the moment, thin pale is a winter's snow with flaming red hair. She's slated to wear the finale's showstopper, a metallic silver mini wedding dress embellished with crosses.
Donatella pushed Johnny to let her wear it. Now he's regretting it deeply. He keeps fussing with the gown as she's being fitted. This is impossible, he says. It's all wrong. Donatella disagrees. It looks perfect. Stop worrying. But Johnny can't get over Karen's eerie Victorian vibe. Why must you be so pale? He keeps asking her. The sun is good for you. Why don't you go outside? Oh, poor Karen.
That is not a sentence you hear often in twenty twenty. So true. Donatella is furious. She's like, just let her walk. But when the music starts and Karen awkwardly makes her way from the staircase to the catwalk, Giani blows stop. He yells enough. She's not modeling this dress. She can't even walk. Give me Naomi.
Karen bursts into tears. Donatella sits there like if looks could kill. But Johnny has spoken. He's done with letting Donatella make any more decisions. Later that night, Donatella is in her suite getting ready for a small dinner party she's throwing for Demi Moore, who's attending the show, still the celebrity whisperer.
I see. Yeah, Donatella spent the last few hours trying to calm down. She had a private Pilates session, a lymphatic drainage massage and an oxygen facial. But she's still out of sorts. Wow.
And I can barely make time for my 10 minute YouTube workout. Even as she slathers on her expensive French almond oil, she's still pissed. Johnny has no idea how hard she's worked to keep the Versace label going when he was sick, how worried and scared she was that he wouldn't make it, and how many tears of joy she shed after his doctors pronounced him healthy. And now he's like a different person and doesn't care about our opinions. But she has a dinner to host, so she pushes her anger away.
When the guests arrive after dinner, Demi pulls Donatella aside. She tells her she wants to read Donatello's tarot cards. As she spreads them out on the table, she starts to get a funny feeling, especially when she lays down the last card. It's a picture of a knight and black armor with a scowl for a face.
It's the death card. Oh, shit. Yeah, the death card can mean different things. It could mean a new stage of life or a rebirth, but to me has a feeling it's something different, she says. And this is a quote from House of Versace. I see two brothers and I see death. Oh, I just got chills. The scary kind. Yeah, Donatella just laughs. With the show hours away, she's got 99 problems and a tarot reading a one.
It's the day of the show, July 6th, nineteen ninety seven, and the room where Jeanny first debuted his guitar collection eight years ago is packed to the gills with the Who's Who of fashion. Hollywood's 1990s elite all have front row seats Demi Moore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Capshaw, that Steven Spielberg's wife.
The house lights dim and the show starts.
Johnny knows the drill, but he holds his breath as the first model glides down the glass runway. There are 80 different pieces in the collection, and they're all classic Johnny with a twist.
Like always, the clothes are sleek and a little bit dangerous. But this time Johnny has abandoned loud colors and vibrant patterns. Instead, almost everything is black and where he once favored flowing fabrics. This time he's tailored away all the smoothness. The shoulders are pointy, the cuts are revealing. It's aggressively sexy. In the finale, Naomi struts down the runway in the tiny wedding dress Karen was supposed to wear, and she looks fantastic. When it's all over, Donatella stands backstage fuming.
She didn't like the mash up of supermodels and super waifs on the same runway, but Johnny is having a very different reaction. At the end of the show, he's beaming with pride. He even makes amends with Karen and plans a little kiss on her cheek. But the big question is what will the critics think?
And they think the show is a smashing success. Johnny is beyond jubilant. He tells a journalist from The New Yorker, I'd like to live forever. If there's anything I'm afraid of, it's missing. What will happen tomorrow. He feels so good about the direction of his line, he decides to let Donatella handle the next show in Rome. Of course, he'll communicate with her daily, help her with the planning, basically call her every 30 seconds, but she'll handle the details.
Besides, he's exhausted. He needs a break. So he hops on the Concorde to head home to Miami. And his spectacular retreat, Casa Costa Rica, where life is good, nothing but margaritas and trashy novels poolside.
That's what I think of when someone says Miami.
OK, so before we continue with the story, can we just sidebar about Johnny's fabulous mansion and Casa Castle Marina and all the series we've done? I don't think I've ever been more fascinated by a rich person's house than this one.
It's absolutely full tilt. Versace. Yes. Please sidebar away.
It's literally out of some pastel Moulin Rouge fantasy dream from the outside to the inside. It's completely over the top. But what's really amazing is where it started. OK, so picture this, it's December 1991, and Gianni Versace is in Miami to open his newest shop. He's never really liked the city. People just bustling by with their eyes to the ground, never saying hello or stopping to chat.
But on this trip, he sees something new.
An area called South Beach is undergoing a transformation. Drug dealers and giant cockroaches are moving out. Artists, drag queens and beautiful people are moving in. Dilapidated art deco buildings have been given new life, painted in pastels and bright colors.
Just like Versace's clothes, Das and Johnny's clothes do well here. Johnny sees possibility and he also sees an ocean front house or more like a ramshackle dump. But there's a coolness and artsy edge and Johnny sees potential. So he's like, What the hell, I'll buy it.
And while I'm at it, why not pick up the girls hotel next door to first thing he does is raise the hotel to the ground to make way for one of the most amazing pools in the history of water. First, he brings in a bunch of California palms because the ones in Florida aren't quite right. Then he gets to work on the pool or his Italian builder does anyway. He imports him to.
He gives the guy one of his wildly colorful scarves and says, make that butt in the pool. They import giant marble blocks from Italy and break them down by hand into thousands of tiny pieces to create this beautiful mosaic of colorful shells and dolphins and bright shining colors. And while they're at it, they lay the floors of the main house as well. It takes them more than a year price tag, one point five million dollars, that is.
I have no words. Oh, and they're just getting started. Every inch inside the mansion is lovingly thought through 35 rooms of color and light paintings and panels and Italian tile.
Johnny's room. It's eight hundred square feet. OK, that's bigger than my apartment. Well, the windows are stained glass with a view of the ocean.
Basically, whatever catches Johnny's eye on his many shopping excursions, he buys and puts in the house antique chairs, silk lampshades, all sorts of bright colors, leopard skin prints. The whole thing costs somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty million dollars, maybe more. And the result?
It's a one of a kind expression of an exuberant, inspired designer with an appreciation for beauty. It becomes the place to be in Miami. Johnny becomes a Miami celebrity himself. He loves his life, his world and his incredible home.
It's his heart. Unlike most celebrities, he won't even hire bodyguards, even though his brother Santo begs him to do so in Miami. He can breathe free, just be himself and walk the streets without a care in the world. That's probably how he's feeling.
The morning of July 15th, 1997, despite the tension with his sister Donatella over the upcoming show in Rome, the Miami sunshine almost always cheers him up as he leaves the house. He's thinking about his morning coffee and the pleasure he'll get from reading this month's Vogue. Maybe he'll sit on his patio listening to the waves of the ocean across the street. Except he never does any of that because he never comes home. We get support from unique vintage dotcom, I have always loved vintage inspired fashion, I love the styles of the 50s, the 60s, the twenties, all of it.
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There's a bike cop waiting for him on the house's front steps and a body lying motionless at his feet. Do you know who this is? The bike cop asks. No, Scrimshaw replies. The cop looks at the body and says, It's Gianni Versace. Oh, shit. Scrimshaw looks down at the body with a new perspective, and that's when he notices something strange. There's a dead morning dove lying next to Giani. A bird? Yep. That's a weird coincidence.
Scrimshaw doesn't think so. He's seen it before. A dead bird is a signature of a mafia hit. Minutes later, paramedics arrive on the scene and rushed Yianni to the nearest hospital, where less than 30 minutes later, he's declared dead. When they empty out his pockets, they find a thousand dollars. And a picture of the Virgin Mary. Oh, man. Meanwhile, back at the Versace mansion, it's chaos, pretty much every law enforcement officer in south Florida is on the scene looking for clues, angling for control.
But not all of them even know who the dead guy is. One guy goes Versace. Is he the one who makes jeans? A few of the FBI agents think Johnny's some kind of singer, but they can all agree on one thing. This case is as high profile as it gets.
Scrimgeour sends officers to check the surrounding area for clues. And in a parking garage a few blocks away, they find some bloody clothes beside a red pickup truck.
Not much of a lead. It could even be a red herring given the dead bird mafia thing.
I mean, it's hard to picture a Mafia henchman driving a pickup truck. Yeah, I know, right? I picture more like a Lincoln Continental, but around noon, things start to get a lot more clear. An FBI fugitive hunter shows up on the scene. His name is Keith Evans and he wants to know more about the red truck. Scrimshaw tells him it's a Chevy. Fifteen hundred Evans can barely contain himself. Turns out he's been chasing a serial killer for months.
A guy suspected of killing four people whose last known victim was a graveyard caretaker. The killer shot him in the head and stole his red Chevy. Fifteen hundred. Evans thinks it's the same guy who killed Versace. And he knows the guy's name, Andrew Cunanan. So the FBI gets to work launching the biggest manhunt in U.S. history and they have no idea where to look. Meanwhile, the world is about to hear the news.
You're looking at a live picture of the scene at the Miami Beach home of Gianni Versace. The police say they have only one suspect in Versace's murder. His name is Andrew Cunanan.
The clips show cops wearing white polo and shorts, ducking under yellow caution tape and disappearing behind the mansion's imposing wrought iron gates. You can see a heap of flowers piled on to the Costas marble steps.
By morning fashionistas, they almost cover up the dark stain of Johnny's blood. Hmm. Meanwhile, back in Rome, Italian television was running their own stories about Johnny's murder.
And Donatella was doing whatever she could to make sure her kids didn't see it.
Oh, yeah, horrible. She and Santo are in shock, like walking zombies. Sure, they've had fights with their brother, but they were super close family and they are consumed with grief.
They get to Miami early in the morning and head straight for the Sorina. When they arrive, it's completely overrun with press people camped outside the house's front gate and helicopters circling overhead.
It's a total circus inside a swarm of FBI agents rifling through drawers and interrogates the staff about what they saw. And now they want to talk to the family members to who, of course, saw nothing. But imagine you've just spent 10 hours on a plane after hearing your brother has been shot and now all these strangers in suits are all over the house grilling everyone.
Man, being rich sucks.
Yeah, but then a familiar voice calls out to her, a goddess floating through the crowd of burly buzzcut lawmen. It's Madonna. You've got to be kidding me. Nope. Madonna was recording a song in Los Angeles when Donatella called her distraught. Madonna immediately hopped on a plane to Miami. When she got to the mansion, she somehow managed to sneak by the TV crews and talk her way past the security guards. Now she's here to comfort Donatella in her hour of need.
We don't know what exactly they do, but whatever happens, we know that Donatella leans on Madonna. Her world is coming apart at the seams.
Later that afternoon, Donatella Santo and Antonio head out to ID the body and then they wait while it's cremated. The next morning, they fly back to Milan with his ashes. They're racked with grief and desperate to know who killed their brother. But what's immediately in front of them is the business. Johnny was the vision behind the brand, a person who made all the key creative decisions and now he's gone, who can possibly fill his shoes.
Shortly after they arrive home, Santo calls a meeting with Donatella. He's always been the pragmatist in the family, and he knows that Johnny's tragic death could have real consequences for the business.
It won't be long before people at the label start asking who's in charge. Plus, they have upcoming shows. If the House of Versace is going to continue, they need a replacement and fast. When Donatella and Santo sit down, they create a list of high end designers they think could fit the bill, people like Karl Lagerfeld.
But as the conversation goes on, Santo realizes Johnny's replacement is staring him right in the face. Donatella She was always a Johnny side in the atelier. She was the one who pushed him to design his best work, and her own trailblazing vision has helped to put Versace on the fashion map. I mean, she practically invented the supermodel. Santo says, Donatella, it's you. You're the leader we need. I'd be like, Yeah, I think I hear the shoe store calling.
Who else do we got? She says, OK, but she's not exactly thrilled about it. She's the sidekick, the accessories, her the cherry on top, not the whole sun. The truth is, she's terrified she'll do it. But right now she has a funeral to plan.
It's July 22nd, nineteen ninety seven, one week after Gianni Versace's murder and two thousand people are packed into the hardwood and pews of the Milan Cathedral. It's the largest church in Italy and around 600 years old. It's Gothic and incredibly ornate, with something like a hundred and thirty five gargoyles guarding the outside press from all over the world start lining up outside barriers in the morning.
Like at some Hollywood event in the late afternoon, guests start to arrive. Sting and his wife Trudie, Naomi Campbell, Anna Wintour, Valentino Lagerfeld, even Giannis arch rival Giorgio Armani shows up to pay his respects. Princess Diana sits in the front row next to Elton John, who sobs quietly. She occasionally reaches over and touches his arm trying to comfort him. But it's no use. He's been a wreck ever since he heard the news. But today he manages to pull himself together long enough to sing a duet with Sting.
The Lord is my shepherd.
As they sing, Santo buries his face in his hands, Donatello wraps her black veil under her chin and closes her eyes. Oh my gosh, I can't even imagine what she's going through. God, I know both of them. It's so heartbreaking. But she doesn't have time to dwell on it. Not now anyway. She's got work to do.
After the service, Donatella heads back to the Versace offices to meet with a PR lady who worked on a lot of runway shows with Giani. She shows Donatella the detailed calendars for all of the new collections coming out. Donatella knew her brother did a lot, but she had no idea how involved he was in everything from ordering fabric samples to hiring seamstresses and overseeing fittings.
He even edited the label's press releases. As Donatella turns the pages, she's overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of her brother's workload.
It's like he did the work of 10 people or more. Oh my gosh.
If you're Donatella, it must feel like being buried under an avalanche of bricks, right? I mean, for the newest collection, Algenis Left Behind or a few unfinished sketches and a handful of fabric orders. Now it's up to Donatella to step up and figure it all out. She wonders how she can ever fill her brother's shoes. Johnny was a genius. What's she good at? Charming celebrities.
True, but you can't keep a multimillion dollar fashion house running on celebrity alone. You need clothes. And the spring summer show is just two months away.
We don't know what she does in that moment, but I'm picturing her taking out a pack of cigarettes and taking a long, slow drag as she ponders what to do.
One thing is clear. If she's going to step up, she needs help.
She needs multiple people to do all the things Giani once did, separate teams to run all the lines, men's and women's ready to wear and couture. And they need designers, good ones and fast. There are several designers on staff, but they've been at Versace forever.
They're pretty much Jannis Disciple's people who are used to answering to her brother. She knows that they don't see her as Johnny's equal and probably never will.
Then there's the issue of the future.
Look of the brand. She and Johnny have been fighting about that for years. Maybe she can change that now so she decides most of the old guard needs to go. But finding replacements for the House of Versace won't be easy, and there isn't much time. The first show for the spring summer collection is just two months away.
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I'm very excited. I got where the crawdad thing and as you know, I like to read books before I watch the shows and that's being made into a show. But I think Reese Witherspoon. So I'm so excited to actually get to hear the story and then get to watch it.
Nice. So I'm going to read Becoming by my main girl, Michelle Obama, because.
Oh, hell, I absolutely love her. Who who doesn't? Yeah, there are thousands of titles for you to choose from Ritchies. Try it out. I promise you, there's something for you. INAUDIBLE to start your free 30 day trial, visit audible dotcom, even the rich or text even the rich to 500 500. Again, that's audible dotcom. Even the rich or taxed, even the rich to 500, 500. It's mid-afternoon on July, twenty third, nineteen ninety seven, a man named Fernando Corera is making his way along a marina just off Miami Beach.
He's checking on a houseboat for an out of town owner. Normally, it's a pretty dull job, so he brings his wife along. But today, as he enters the boat, something seems off.
No one's supposed to be here, but the door is unlocked inside. It's lit up like a Christmas tree. Someone has drawn the curtains and turned on every light. Fernando tiptoes into the living room. The sofa cushions are laid out on the floor and there's a pair of sandals nearby. He whispers to his wife, someone still here. He heads toward the stairs, and then Fernando and his wife hightail it the fuck out of there.
Outside, they duck into some bushes where Fernando calls his son and tells him to send the police. A few hours later, the House vote has turned into a full blown crime scene, helicopters hovering overhead, press people gather nearby. Everyone suspects. The person inside is Andrew Cunanan, based on reports about a few sightings.
A couple of days back around eight o'clock, SWAT team members fire tear gas through the front door. Twenty minutes later, they slowly make their way in. It's a mess inside. Half eaten food spoiling in the fridge cutups.
Tips and pills and copies of Vogue cluttering the coffee table. And then in an upstairs bedroom, they find a dead body.
It's Cunanan. He shot himself in the mouth with the same gun he used to kill Gianni Versace. Oh, my God. Did he leave a note or anything? No note. So the police have to piece it together. But there's this amazing reporter who has a head start. Her name is Maureen Orth, and she wrote a book about it called The Vulgar Favors, which, of course, I completely devoured. So here's what we know.
Andrew Cunanan was this handsome, smooth talking hustler from San Diego who lived his whole life convinced he was destined for greatness.
He went to college but dropped out and moved to San Francisco. There he went to work, seducing and swindling wealthy older men, using their money to fund an extravagant lifestyle. Rumor has it he met Giani at a gay disco in 1990, though the Versace family says that never happened. We'll never know. But whatever happened, it didn't stop Andrew from bragging to his friends about the meeting for years to come. And he clearly admired him. Janie was everything.
Andrew aspired to be rich, famous, powerful, a mortal with his designs. But he couldn't get the kind of breaks he thought he deserved. He started drinking a lot and put on weight, and pretty soon he wasn't as handsome as he used to be. And then he started getting delusional and paranoid and eventually he imploded. On April 25th, 1997, Andrew flies to Minnesota, he wants to see his best friend and his ex, two days later, he beats his friend to death with a claw hammer and rolls his body up in a carpet.
And a few days after that, he shoots his ex in the head broke. This story is supposed to be fun. This is not fun.
Yeah, and it gets worse. He steals the friend's car and takes off for Chicago, where he breaks into the home of a real estate developer. There he proceeds to torture the guy. It's super gruesome. And I'm not going to get into the details here, but let's just say Andrew is totally unhinged at this point. Next, he steals the dead man's Lexus and drives east where he kills another guy and steals his truck. That's what he uses to get to Miami.
And for a guy who's now on the FBI's most wanted list, he doesn't exactly keep a low profile. One night he goes out clubbing and chats up a guy on the dance floor. What do you do for a living? A guy asks and Andrew says, Oh, I'm a serial killer. Three days later, he waits outside the mansion for Jeanny to come home from his morning walk and follows him on to his front steps and shoots him. This guy is bonkers.
Yes, after the cops ID the body, the first call they make is to Donatella in Santo in Milan. Of course, they have a million questions. The biggest one being why, but no one knows. Some think it's because he wanted to be famous and never got there the way he hoped. Others say he was jealous of Versace's success, or maybe he knew the cops were closing in on him and figured murdering the most famous man in Miami would be his last hurrah.
Well, that has got to be the most depressing story we've ever told on even the rich, even worse than the Paul Getty EER incident. I know what's so tough for the family is that it all feels so senseless and there's no real closure.
But one thing is clear. They want Johnny's legacy to live on past his death, which means Donatella has to do everything in her power to make sure the next show is a hit.
At the end of July, Donatella decides she needs somewhere to clear her head away from the press. So she heads off to a private Caribbean island owned by Richard Branson, the head of Virgin Airlines and Virgin Records, and 300 plus other companies, which is why he can afford his own island. It makes the Garden of Eden look like a Motel six pristine beaches and hand carved furniture and tame lemurs who will plop right on your shoulder so you can feed them fruit right out of your hand.
I would love to be on a beach feeding lemurs from my hand. That's the dream, Pritch.
But Donatella can't relax because she's on a ticking clock. She's given herself a deadline. She needs a team in place of Versace by the time she returns to Italy. So instead of relaxing, she spends hours on the phone talking to design candidates. At night, she shuffles through a stack of resumes. She knows Johnny liked self-taught designers like himself. But Donatella takes a different approach. She's looking at international up and comers who attended prestigious design schools. Now she just needs to get all the new people back to Milan by the end of August and they need to hit the ground running.
The next Versace show is speeding toward her. If she can pull it off, she might finally prove to everyone she knows what she's doing. And if she can't, then the House of Versace might be in really big trouble. It's the end of August, Donatello's first show is just six weeks away, and she can't shake her nerves. She's back in the Versace offices in Milan, surrounded by a new crop of designers and assistants. She hired them for their edge.
What if their own clothes are any indication of the future of fashion? The world is in trouble. Some are in baggy pants somewhere. T-shirts, a lot of them are in sneakers. She wanted edgy, not sloppy.
She tells them to go buy better clothes the next day. Everyone comes to work better dressed, but they don't get any work done because they're glued to the television. The night before, Princess Diana died in a horrible crash while being chased by hordes of paparazzi. It's another punch in the gut to Donatello's long list of blows. She just saw Diana at her brother's funeral a month ago. Now she'll be attending her funeral. It's grim, but she needs to focus.
People are counting on her. And there's so much to be done before the first show about all they have are a few sample dresses and a bunch of swatches Johnny chose before he died. One of the new designers looks at the board and wrinkles up his nose and then says, How sad.
Wait, how can fabric be sad? I don't know. But to bring it home, he grabs one of the dresses and gets to work creating a new distressed hem.
Donatella is like, What are you doing? Johnny's woman is sexy. That's horrible. The new guy disagrees and they end up in a long argument while everyone else fidgets and waits.
It's exhausting. And Donatella doesn't have any more fight in her. She finally says, Just go ahead, I'll fix it later.
The driving force who never back down to Gianni Versace, just back down to some whippersnapper to keep the peace. She's probably completely emotionally wiped. She's under a ton of pressure. She never wanted the role of boss. Her job was to help Johnny be a better designer. But she never had to come up with her own designs out of thin air. Now, she's not only supposed to run a huge team, but make hundreds of decisions a day. I would have crawled under a blanket for a hundred years.
Same as the pressure mounts. She gets even less sure of herself. She speaks in such a quiet voice. The designers have to lean forward to hear her. And sometimes she's filled with so much anxiety, she shakes once or twice. She breaks down and cries, Oh my gosh, the poor thing. Yeah, she's in a real pickle. If she veers too far away from the Versace look, people might slam her for not respecting her brother's memory.
But if she tries to do what he did, there's no way she'll measure up.
It's a no win situation.
And then in the middle of all of this, she gets a surprise, a letter from a notary. It's addressed to the immediate family members and requests a meeting at the notary's office for a reading of the will.
Oh, shit. The will. I completely forgot about that.
Oh, yeah. And let me just tell you, no one is expecting what's inside. This is episode three 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 podcasts, Spotify, the Wonder App or wherever you're listening right now. Join one Dree Plus in the Wonder app to listen ad free. In the episode notes, you'll find some links and offers from our sponsors.
Please support them. Another way to support us is to answer a short survey at one dary dotcom slash 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 Brooke Saffron. And I'm Trisha Skidmore. Williams Celil Finkelstein wrote this episode. Our editor is Ladona Avoda. Caleb Bissinger is our associate producer, audio assistant by Sergio Henriquez.
Sound Design is by James Martin.
Our executive producers are Stephanie Jones, Marcia Marshmallowy and Hernan Lopez for wondering.
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