Donatella: House of Cocaine
Along the way, Donatella suffered some setbacks, including ridicule from fashion experts, near destruction of the company and not least of all, drug addiction. She battled back, though, and kept the Versace name going. Under her leadership, the world-renowned fashion house continued to be a success. A big part of that success was making sure that she overcame her addiction to cocaine. If she had not sought rehab and pulled herself out of the disease, the movie would not have an inspiring story to tell.
Donatella’s Rise to Fame
Donatella’s story of fame begins with her brother, Gianni. The Italian-born fashion designer, who first started his line in 1978, quickly became known for his glamorous, sexy dresses that were made using new technologies. He also became famous for dressing the hottest celebrities, especially in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. In 1997, when he was just 50 years old, and in the prime of his career, Gianni was shot and killed in front of his Miami mansion.
At the time of her brother’s death, Donatella was already working for Versace. She acted as a muse, a consultant and a designer. After he died, she took over as the creative director for the entire Versace Group. She had already been running much of the company behind the scenes, but his death thrust her into the spotlight and the official role as the head of the company. Donatella had already been known to be a partier, but she was not famous yet. After her brother died, she gave up drugs and partying, but she hid her grief and her pain.
Addiction and the Downward Spiral
Although her brother’s untimely and tragic death caused Donatella to stop using drugs, her suffering and grief led her right back to them, namely cocaine. The Versace Group had been very successful, but as she gave into her cocaine addiction, Donatella put the business into a tailspin. By 2004 she was using the drug every day, and the company was sliding. The Versace fashion shows disappointed critics, and their lesser-priced lines didn’t even show. Fashion experts took that as a sign that the company was really struggling. Critics claimed Donatella was not a real designer and that she could never live up to her brother’s legacy. They criticized her leadership.
At the bottom of her downward spiral into addiction and cocaine abuse, Donatella terrified her two children with her wild mood swings. She used cocaine in front of employees. She gave an infamous news conference that made no sense and proved to be a huge embarrassment for the House of Versace.
Coming Back From the Brink
Donatella’s close friend, Elton John, spearheaded her recovery from drug addiction. He led an intervention in 2004 that was staged as Donatella’s daughter Allegra’s 18th birthday party. Just before her famous friend arrived, she snorted a line of coke, not suspecting that her daughter’s birthday party was really an attempt to save her from addiction.
With her friends and her daughter confronting her about her addiction to cocaine and pleading with her to get help, Donatella left that night for a stint in a rehab facility. Her friends and family claimed that her habit had made her a paranoid, erratic and barely coherent mother, friend and businesswoman.
Thanks to her treatment in rehab and the support of her friends and family, Donatella was able to come clean from cocaine and overcome her addiction. Since her recovery, she has replaced her bad habits with healthful ones, and, as a result, was able to bring her brother’s company—his legacy—back to life. Today, the Versace Group is successful once again. The Lifetime movie about her struggles and successes was based on a book by journalist Deborah Ball, but was not authorized by the fashion house. The story should resonate with anyone who has faced addiction or has watched it destroy a loved one. Authorized or not, the story is triumphant and inspiring.