Homage to
Gianni Versace:
beauty, texture and the uncontrollable

Versace's murder shocked and saddened me. I thought about how much closer my work is to his than to many of the other strains of contemporary experimental art and writing. When I envision his work I think of texture, beauty and freedom. He looked beauty squarely in the face -- unflinching in his address. So many artists today are afraid to even glance in that direction. Afraid to explore the powers of seduction. Afraid to even play with the tensions that make an emotional response possible.

Seven years ago in Bologna, I remember thinking Italy was fashion. I also felt that many of those people who would in other times or places have gone into fine arts were going into fashion and design (glass, furniture, etc.). A designer could be recognized and earn a living. Italy has a vested interest in keeping its master artists (Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Leonardo), not to mention Roman art and architecture and ruins, in a position of prominence. There is only so much support for new art and such a formidable Buddha to "kill." It's almost a sacrilege to think of the new replacing the old in Italy -- except in the design fields. This is where Versace could be a genius.

When I was a child, my mother was a fashion illustrator for Leon Frohsin. She often brought home couturier clothes to draw for her ads in the Atlanta Journal or Constitution. They were separate newspapers then. I might be asked to model a diaphanous Christian Dior evening gown, pink with sequins, or something svelte by Jacques Fath. Though we weren't rich, Balenciaga, Valentina and Chanel were household names. Mother did her pen and ink drawings in the corner of the bedroom, and the clothes would often be on a back door or casually laid across the bed. From an early age, I sensed that fashion was power. The poses of models signaled a type of dramatic acting in which women were in control of men if not their lives.

I can remember distinctly being reprimanded at the age of seven or so for parroting what some school chums were saying. We were driving in our Studebaker by J. P. Allen's department store, and in the window, there was a navy and emerald evening dress. When I said blue and green don't go together, you would have thought I was to be expelled from the family. My mother snapped, "Who told you that?" in the same way she once said when I asked her if she ever cheated in school, "Never, and you won't either!" Family values.

On several occasions, Versace fashions were an inspiration in my collages and art. I used a detail or portion and then manipulated it in various ways. A silver glittering shape can be seen on the first page of NoPink. I felt it was a cross between the drape of a shroud and the glitter of a showgirl's costume. As the subject of the piece was about a friend who had died and another friend who was stripping, the image was perfect. In another case, the bodice of a dress Iman had worn, a green satin gown with a decolleté neckline, was inverted, drawn on and collaged with flowers and words. This can be seen in one of the random cards in Red Mona. And in Safara in the Beginning, there is a portion of a Versace green pleated chiffon gown, manipulated and added to in a type of animati! ! on. Fashion has long influenced my work.

It has been said in Time and Punch and on CNN that Versace's clothes were designed to be noticed, to call attention to the whore quality (my phrasing). The French have a saying, "Elle sait ce qu'elle veut," ("She knows just what she wants,") which implies the woman has a defined attitude. So that the Versace designs -- often revealing, sensual, showy -- could be worn by any woman who knew what she was about; that is, the source of her lust or desires was not free-floating but rather directed. A concept, I think, more understood in France and Italy than most other countries. Donna Karan has a wonderful way with sensuality and texture, and Galliano and Gaultier I love for their use of pattern on pattern, their skills as designers with a capital "D".

To speak of varieties of texture associated with satin, kid or chiffon is not a big leap metaphorically to the technical concerns of the fine arts or literature. Nor, of course, are the often classical lines used by the designer. The attempts to theatrically fuse fashion and rock are conceptually more interesting and difficult. For fifteen years, my creative life has revolved around attempts at fusion -- of poetry, fiction and, at times, nonfiction or biography. For me, such efforts offer deep, aesthetic satisfaction.

Not only do I identify with the formal and technical impetus of Versace, but I feel related on a more emotional level as well. I believe that Versace was like the poet-playwright Tennessee Williams in that he identified with women and longed to set them free. Versace had a way of celebrating and elevating the sensual and uncontrollable qualities of women; I hope to achieve this in my own work.

by Christy Sheffield Sanford by Christy Sheffield Sanford by Christy Sheffield Sanford
Article by Christy Sheffield Sanford | . . . . write me. . . . . | "Daniel" written by Elton John

Copyright © 1997
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