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Donatella Versace Wants to Be Lady Gaga

The legendary Italian designer spoke candidly about her career highlights while promoting her new book, "Versace," in New York City this week.
Photo: Scott Wintrow/Getty Images

Photo: Scott Wintrow/Getty Images

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but Donatella Versace isn't afraid to supplement images with talk. Or that's what seemed to be the case on Wednesday night, at least, when she spoke candidly about her decades-long career in promotion of her new book of photographs, "Versace," at the Times Center.

In conversation with InStyle Fashion News Director Eric Wilson, the Italian designer used images from the Rizzoli-published volume as touch points for discussing everything from appearing in another designer's ad campaign to the celebrity she'd (not so secretly) like to be. Read on for some of the highlights from the evening.

On working with legendary fashion photographers:

Versace has worked with some of the most iconic photographers in the industry, many of whom have photographed Versace herself. Though she was quick to praise the vision of everyone with whom the brand has worked from Jean Paul Goude ("he's truly an artist") to Steven Meisel ("with him, nothing was out of place"), she also shared choice tidbits about one of the most game-changing image-makers in the biz: Richard Avedon. "He was very difficult to work with," she said. "He pushed me. But he was such a perfectionist; what he turned out were like paintings, not pictures."

On being the reason Google Images exists:

The iconic green dress that Jennifer Lopez wore to the 2000 Grammy Awards was groundbreaking in and of itself, with its below-the-belly-button plunging neckline and translucent fabric — and this was before the "naked dress" became a red-carpet norm. But the fact that it helped launch Google Images cemented it in tech, as well as fashion, history. The day after the Grammys, searches for the dress were the most popular query Google had ever seen, but the platform hadn't yet developed an effective way to search photos. Thus, Google Images was born.

"We had no idea what was going to happen," Versace said of about the dress. "I did not realize; it went so quick. We sent it to her and she said, 'Boobs! It's so open!' But we told her, 'Put Scotch tape on it.'" The next day, the dress made history.

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On Lady Gaga:

The two have a long relationship. First Gaga asked Versace to be in a music video, then Versace asked Gaga to be in a Versace ad campaign. "I asked her to play a part, and she said, 'I want to be you.' But I want to be her!" exclaimed Versace. Considering that Gaga has now written a song about Versace and has been reported to play the designer in season three of "American Crime Story," it seems the admiration is mutual.

Photo: Courtesy Versace

Photo: Courtesy Versace

On Versace being a brand for strong, powerful women:

Despite her frequent descriptions of the brand as such, and her quip that she "likes to be in charge in general," Versace also joked of herself: "I'm scary, not powerful."

On using music icons like Madonna and Courtney Love as models:

"They're women in charge, that's what I like about them," Versace said. But she didn't hesitate to share the difficulties of working with women who have their own voice, either. Madonna "didn't like taking direction," and Courtney Love had to be repeatedly asked not to touch the makeup on her face on a shoot. "It was a mess," Versace laughed.

On seeing other designers as friends rather than rivals:

Versace recently appeared in an ad campaign for Givenchy alongside artistic director Riccardo Tisci, and the fact that she was willing to rep a brand other than her own caused quite a stir. But her friendship with Tisci runs deep, and moderator Wilson brought up something Tisci had once said to him: "He told me that when he started working in Milan, he knocked on a lot of designer's doors, and the only one who would talk to him was Donatella Versace." Her response to that was simple: "I'm very proud of that campaign," she said. "Designers should talk to each other and exchange ideas. You can learn from each other. Always."

On the one thing she won't leave home without:

Her dog, Audrey. "She's really intelligent and never complains. I always bring her with me. If we go to a fitting and there are new models, she'll go by and be like, 'Don’t be scared!' She warms people up."

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