This weekend (July 15) marks the 20th anniversary of the death of designer Gianni Versace. Traversing the South Beach scene, Shinan Govani retraces the steps of the late designer who was the face of Italian fashion the world over.
It takes five minutes, possibly four, to walk the three-block strip of Ocean Drive from the storied News Cafe to Casa Casuarina, a sprawling 23,000-square foot manse that hugs the Art Deco-addled, classically Americana beachfront.
I did it not so long ago, reimagining the morning, 20 years ago this annum, when Gianni Versace paced the very same route, unbeknownst to him that they'd mark his final stroll. Though the stretch was somewhat different then – more open, with an unobstructed view of the horizon – the tawny light of South Beach goes on, as does the right-back-to-1997 whiff of cocoa sunblock.
The day long ago faded into infamy: having risen early the morning of July 15, the designer – then the face of Italian fashion the world over – had sauntered over to have breakfast and then turned back, on cue, to home. Soon: boom. In mere minutes, he'd be assassinated right there in full view, courtesy of two swift shots to the head by a madman who'd come to be known as Andrew Cunanan. Falling to the ground, along with the five magazines he'd just purchased at the News Cafe – Vogue, People, Entertainment Weekly, Business Week and The New Yorker – Versace was instantly dead, his blood promptly staining the coral front steps of his Bonaparte-worthy property.
That mark? Long gone. What has, however, soaked into the very mythology of Miami over the last two decades – certain cities being nothing but the accumulation of the stories that it tells itself – is the glamour in life and in death of the man.
"This used to be his kitchen," the chap behind the bar at Gianni's, the 2016-circa restaurant now nestled at Casa Casuarina, was saying when I dropped in. It had the mien, no doubt, of a rehearsed soliloquy that he gives nightly, as the curiousity-mongers arrive to commune with the ghost of Versace.
The Onyx Bar, as it's known now, welcomes visitors at a manse that is now a hotel but is ever a portal to an unreal decadence. The tangle of styles that the designer tah-dah'ed – Greek, Roman, Moorish – remains in check, as do all the many commissioned frescoes, the stained-glass windows, its fabulous tile work, that gold-plated pool. A Graceland for the Medusa-head set, you might call it.
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