SPEAKING highly of one's boss may be customary practice for any employee, but Versace chief executive Gian Giacomo Ferraris's admiration for Donatella Versace borders on the effusive. "Working with Donatella Versace is a most rewarding experience," declares Mr Ferraris in his suite at the St Regis Hotel, when he was in town to grace the opening of the brand's 2,013 square feet boutique at Paragon. "She possesses not just incredible creative talent - imagine the amount of concentration required for creating our range of products - but has great managerial skills as well."
It would have been easy for Mr Ferraris, who was the former head of the Jil Sander Group and Gucci Group, to take personal credit for the brand's successes. After all, within a year of his appointment at Versace in 2009, he managed to increase revenue of the Versace group by 9 per cent. Saddled with debt after the death of founder Gianni Versace in 1997, followed by the global financial crisis in 2009, the group posted operating profits only in 2011.
And the secret to the group's success, besides much drier restructuring measures, lies in creative consistency. Picking up a printed throw cushion from the settee, Mr Ferraris explains: "Every line, every product had to be placed under the direction of Mrs Donatella to deliver the same emotion and DNA throughout the brand. From men's ready-to-wear to a cup, to a cushion, to a woman's accessory - everything has to be approved by Mrs Donatella."
The platinum-haired, perma-tanned creative director of the company has been helming the fashion empire since the shocking murder of her brother, and she has managed to parlay emblems of the fashion label such as its Medusa logo into home furnishings and even Palazzo Versace hotels in Dubai and the Gold Coast. Today, alongside Mr Ferraris, her OTT-baroque aesthetics has also been translated into a revival of a couture range and even forays into mass fashion - with a 2011 collaboration with H&M being the chain store's most successful tie-up.
"The younger generation has never heard about Gianni and not many of them could afford a 2,000-euro (S$3,420) leather jacket," says Mr Ferraris about the high street collection, which sold out in 30 minutes at several H&M locations.
"Although Mrs Donatella said she would never do a fast fashion collaboration years ago, she accepted that working with H&M would not be a dilution of the brand, and approached it like a 'greatest hits' list of the house's best designs. And right after, we had more and more of the younger generation in our customer profile."
Attracting the next wave of designer devotees has always been a priority for Mr Ferraris, whose first job upon graduation was as a high school teacher. He re-acquired the licence for the house's diffusion line Versus, which has recently unveiled a capsule collection by rapper MIA following a much-lauded range by young British designer JW Anderson, and launched a Young Versace line of childrenswear.
"I've never thought about it till now, but perhaps I have in common with Mrs Donatella a passion for working with a younger generation," muses Mr Ferraris, who saw the group's revenue grow 20 per cent to 408 million euros last year.
"The way I used to work with students is similar to how she has worked with Christopher Kane (the Scottish designer who helmed Versus from 2009 to 2012), JW Anderson and on the H&M collection. An asset of Mrs Donatella is her ability to maintain a vision while recognising these new talents."
And brand longevity is all the more crucial for the house today, as Mr Ferraris has openly spoken about its ambitions to go public. Now, it is courting a minority shareholder to fund the growth of the family-owned business because, as Mr Ferraris elaborates, "we deal mainly in premium retail and this means high capital expansion".
Donatella Versace currently has a 20 per cent stake, her brother Santo has 30 per cent while Donatella's daughter Allegra owns the remaining 50 per cent. And the brand has been successfully mounting its resurgence as a luxury empire, in part due to the revival of its haute couture line Atelier Versace last year, after a 15-year hiatus.
For many, Versace is "the house of the safety pin", as once dubbed by JW Anderson, referencing the punk-ish embellishment that has adorned the brand's most recognisable designs. It has always treaded the gossamer-thin line between "vulgar" and "in vogue", but true aficionados would point out that the brand's success lies in its luxe artisanship.
"The Versace DNA starts with Gianni - and he's a couturier," says Mr Ferraris, a graduate in chemical engineering with a specialisation in textile chemistry.
"When I first joined the company, we did not maximise the incredible craftsmanship of the artisans who were still in our atelier. The work we do with couture is like that of a research and development department. Mrs Donatella translates the fine embroidery, materials and craft into the first line."
Beneath the retina-searing prints, front row celebrities and Glad Wrap-tight dresses is, undeniably, a house that upholds the tenets of opulence in its myriad forms. And under the reign of Mr Ferraris and his business muse, Donatella, Versace may once again be a force feared by rivals, just like its insignia.