'House of Versace' costume designer on Gina Gershon's transformation
Gina Gershon had big stilettos to fill to play fashion designer Donatella Versace in Lifetime’s biopic House of Versace. Luckily, the actress had costume designer Claire Nadon to help her create the look of the fashion icon.
“It was one of the best productions I’ve worked on in my life,” says Nadon. “It’s so rare that you have an occasion to do a film about clothing and garments and fashion. Usually, it’s such a complimentary aspect of the film, but fashion was the core [of this movie].” Still, the process wasn’t an easy one. With just three weeks of prep time, Nadon worked with two assistants, three tailors, and four on-set associates to quickly pull together the colorful wardrobe, which consisted of both custom-made items and authentic vintage Versace pieces.
The Italian luxury label was not involved with the production — which follows Donatella Versace’s struggle to keep her murdered brother Gianni’s fashion empire afloat while battling drug addiction — but Nadon insists, “It does show the spirit of the fashion house and the period. I would love it if [the family and company] would think that [the fashion] could be authentic, but I don’t mistake myself. I know we didn’t have the time or the budget or the actual real fabric that they had. But if people have the feeling of, ‘I know that period and it does portray that,’ I would be very pleased.”
Click through the gallery to see what Nadon says about actress Gina Gershon’s dramatic transformation, the best place to find vintage Versace pieces, and which actress wore her own personal wardrobe on-screen.
“Donatella always tries to be flamboyant, sexy, to maximize her femininity… She wears a corset under everything, even T-shirts,” says Nadon, who watched as the actress lost weight during filming because the restrictive garments made eating almost impossible. “[Gina would] say, ‘Tighter at the waist.’ She always wanted the corsets tighter and tighter…. Because she was wearing corsets every day, it didn’t [leave] any room for big meals.” Nadon’s team scoured consignment stores like The Way We Wore and Timeless Vixens to track down authentic vintage sunglasses and handbags from the fashion brand.
Nadona admits that costumes were just a part of the transformation process. After all, what would Donatella be without her trademark blonde tresses and pillowy lips? “They added something to her mouth to make her lips [puffier]. I know what I can do with garments, but it’s always good to see what other powers can do for the face and the hair,” explains the costume designer, who says that the elaborate hair and make-up process — which took up to two hours each day — more than forty custom costumes, and Gershon’s take on Versace’s thick accent were the most essential elements. “[Gina is] a real Method actor. When she arrived for the first fitting, she had the Italian accent…and she was already playing the diva.”
Nadon says Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars, Just Shoot Me!) was the perfect choice to play Versace founder Gianni Versace. “Gianni himself in life was not outrageous, so [he had] a simple wardrobe. As long as it fit and it looked good, [he wore it]. That was one of the easiest characters to do actually,” admits the designer, who dressed Gianni’s lover Antonio (Stefano DiMatteo) in a shirt she made using authentic Versace fabric. “[We used] some Versace jeans, but they didn’t [always] fit. So I had no choice but to buy them from other [brands].”
Other than a Versace-inspired suit (pictured above), Raquel Welch practically dressed herself to play Donatella’s Aunt Lucia. “[Raquel] wanted to do the fittings way before filming. She knows herself really well, so she wanted to be prepared. We bought some stuff and we sent it [to her] by FedEx, but it unfortunately got stuck for two weeks,” Nadon says. “We sent $12,000 [worth] of garments and they got stuck because of the value. They arrived in Los Angeles on the day [Raquel] was leaving.” Welch sent her assistant out to shop for her character and arrived on set in Montreal with a full wardrobe in hand. “She came fully equipped. We just had to adjust it for her.”
“[The Versace style] evolved throughout the years. Gianni’s woman was more of a mistress, the Donatella woman is more of a successful, working woman, it’s more down-to-earth,” says Nadon, who looked to photographer Richard Avedon’s book Versace: The Naked and the Dressed: 20 Years of Versace to find inspiration for the movie’s Versace runway montages. The designer and her wardrobe team scoured consignment stores, eBay, and an online boutique called 1stdibs.com to find authentic Versace pieces, but ended up having to make most of the clothes from scratch. “Three weeks before we were shooting, we had virtually nothing on the rack!”
House of Versace premieres October 5th at 8 PM on Lifetime.