Born in 1946, Gianni Versace grew up in the southern Italian town of Reggio di Calabria. After moving to Milan in his 20s and working for a number of designers, Versace started his own label in 1978, almost immediately gaining attention for his ashy, risqué designs. For years, Versace used his own name as his logo—until 1993, when he appropriated the Medusa head that he recalled from his childhood in Calabria.
Hellenic heritage and mythology were among Gianni Versace’s muses. He was born, after all, in Reggio di Calabria in Southern Italy’s Calabria, part of the region once known as Magna Graecia or Great Greece.
The ancient Greeks colonized Calabria and other regions of Southern Italy many centuries ago, and in doing so left an indelible imprint of Greek culture and tradition, much of which endures to this day.
Those early years in Reggio di Calabria may be where Versace first became aware of the Medusa head.
Medusa’s head is encircled by a ring of Greek keys – decorative patterns based on single lines that twist like a maze – another quintessential Versace design motif.
Who Was Medusa?
Medusa was one of the three Gorgons in classical Greek mythology, and the only one who was mortal. The most familiar rendition of her story is this: the young, golden-haired and beautiful Medusa caught the eye of the god Poseidon who, on impulse, decided to ravish the maiden in the temple of another god, Athena. Unfortunately for Medusa, Athena caught them in the act. In a fit of rage Athena didn’t event help the poor raped girl but turned her into a hideous monster with serpent hair. So ghastly was Medusa that anyone who looked upon her face turned to stone. This is how Medusa is most commonly portrayed and remembered, and why she is most often associated with anger and evil.
Versace, A New Mythology
As a creative force, Gianni Versace drew heavily on the inspirations of his upbringing and surroundings, which were permeated with Greek art and mythology. The mythical Medusa became a perfect symbolic figure to represent the Versace brand. She was Gianni’s paradox –- beautiful but frightening, shocking yet enchanting.
Donatella Versace controls the Versace brand with this same spirit of innovative multi-dimensionality, further broadening the definition of Medusa to new and younger audiences as well clientele who grew up with Versace.
The Versace Medusa head logo is a fashion icon that is recognized the world over, enough so that lore of Medusa requires a new definition, outside of Greek mythology, and instead as part of the Versace legend.