In 1992, Italian designer Gianni Versace was fascinated with the American West. That year, his collections featured design elements typically associated with the cowboy or cowgirl: boots, fringed leather, jackets with metal tipped lapels and Western motifs. Given Versace's reputation for designing aggressively sexual clothing, it is no surprise that his "Western wear" forced fashion writers to search for words "other than 'bondage' and 'sadomasochism' to describe the clothes."1 Though hinting at the practicality of leather garments sometimes worn by working cowhands, this fringed and studded leather vest lined with shearling would probably be more at home in a dark nightclub than out on the range.
Regarding the inspiration for his Western wear, Versace said, "Europe feels a great attraction toward the refreshing Western myth and toward a look that speaks of wide-open spaces in traditional ways...it is a panacea for something that has been ailing us for a long time--the late twentieth century."2 Versace's tribute to Americana recalls the famous "spaghetti western" films of the 1960s. These films, including A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, were typically filmed in Italy or Spain under Italian direction, and featured American actors portraying stories of the Old West. It also outlines a classic source of creative inspiration: nostalgia for an imagined past.
Though Versace may have viewed his "cowgirl" collection as derived from the Old West, it points more directly at the transgressive reputation of black leather. Throughout much of the 20th century, black leather jackets have been associated with misfits and rebels. Like a shield, a black leather jacket deflects societal expectations and creates an aura of power through opposition. Though Versace's version of the leather jacket plays on this reputation, with the fringe, studs and gold-tipped buckles, it becomes an over-the-top caricature of transgression. Confident excess was a hallmark of Gianni Versace's aesthetic and continues to inform the sensibility of Versace as designed by Donatella Versace. The Spring 2010 Versace collection, which can be viewed here, has been called a return to the early 90s heyday of Versace. Do you see any resemblance between the Spring 2010 garments and the FIDM Museum leather vest pictured here?
1 Hochswender, Woody "Report from Milan." New York Times 17 May 1992.
2 Quoted in George-Warren, Holly and Michelle Freedman. How the West Was Worn. New York: Abrams. 2001.