A Flair for Fashion

July 17, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Paul Solman of WGBH-Boston picks up the story.

PAUL SOLMAN: Well, we turn first to the latest from Miami. Tammerlin Drummond is there, covering the story for Time Magazine. Ms. Drummond, welcome. And what’s the latest?

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND, Time Magazine: Well, this story has just taken an amazing series of twists and turns. Just two days after Mr. Versace’s murder, the body of a 44-year-old doctor was discovered in an upscale neighborhood called Miami Springs, which is about just 15 miles from where Mr. Versace was murdered. The immediate speculation was that there might be some connection between these two cases because witnesses in the neighborhood said that they saw a man fitting Mr. Cunanan’s description running from the house.

PAUL SOLMAN: Is there more of a connection than that? Is there any–or reasonable speculation as to some connection between Cunanan and this latest murder?

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: No, there really isn’t at this point. There are unconfirmed reports that the victim was shot in the head. But at this point the federal law enforcement officials have obtained a search warrant. They are going over the house as we speak, looking for evidence, but they stress at this point that the only connection–and it is not a connection–is that witnesses saw a man who fits the description leaving the house.

PAUL SOLMAN: Do they think that Cunanan is still in the area? Is there speculation, or what are law enforcement officials saying about that?

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: Well, there is no reason to believe that he has not left the area, so they have intensified the manhunt here. We’ve got about 400 federal agents combing South Florida. Literally hundreds of calls are coming in. They have established a special command center at FBI headquarters to handle the overflow. So they are proceeding as though he is still in the area.

PAUL SOLMAN: Now, there’s a definitive connection, or is there, to the Versace killing, that is, a connection between Andrew Cunanan and Versace?

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: Well, there is in the red pickup truck. What was also discovered shortly after the murder was a check with Mr. Cunanan’s name on it, as well as a passport. PAUL SOLMAN: In that pickup truck, you mean?

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: In that pickup truck, that’s correct.

PAUL SOLMAN: Did he know–did they know each other? I read something today where Maurine Authur’s coming out with a piece in “Vanity Fair” suggesting that Versace and Cunanan did know each other.

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: Well, there has been a lot of speculation on that regard, which we are certainly–everyone is trying to follow up on. But at this point, that is still not confirmed.

PAUL SOLMAN: All right. Who is Andrew Cunanan? I mean, who is this guy?

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: Well, apparently, according to an interview that his mother gave, he is a high-class prostitute, who manages to move from city to city and gets himself into communities where there are affluent gay men and, according to the allegations, preys on them and kills them. He’s also a very clever man, who is able to change his look, you know, changing the hairstyle, maybe putting on some glasses, without actually putting on disguises. So he seems to constantly elude this incredible dragnet.

PAUL SOLMAN: But what is he like? What was he like? I mean, what’s the–what do the reports about him say about him?

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: Well, they say that he’s very educated. He speaks numerous languages, a very sociable sort of fellow, very charming, moves in high circles.

PAUL SOLMAN: Has he been–I read that he was gay from the time he was–sort of openly gay from the time he was in high school.

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: Well, I know that he’s been openly gay for a while. I don’t have any confirmation that he was actually gay in high school.

PAUL SOLMAN: All right.

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: But he’s been openly gay for a while.

PAUL SOLMAN: So that wasn’t something that was suddenly discovered, or something like that?

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: No, it doesn’t sound like it.

PAUL SOLMAN: Is there a consensus psychological profile of him at this point? I mean, what’s the kind of thing that people you respect are saying or speculating? I know it would probably have to be speculation, but–

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: Well, it’s the same profile that you see sort of floated around about serial killers; that you know he’s highly intelligent, you know, a white male in his 30’s, mid 30’s; that he’s had possibly some kind of trauma that occurred during his childhood. But at this point, I mean, that is all speculation as far as pertains to Mr. Cunanan.

PAUL SOLMAN: I mean, when you talk to people about this, does anybody come up with an explanation for what the motivation for this could be that you find at least thoughtful maybe is the word?

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: Well, you know, at this point you just hear a lot of rumors. I mean, there have been reports that he–he may have AIDS, and this may be some kind of vengeance thing. I mean, but at this point it’s just all really a lot of rumors that we’re all dealing with.

PAUL SOLMAN: Well, I don’t think we want to perpetuate them.


PAUL SOLMAN: What do crime authorities–why do they say he’s so hard to find? I mean, what’s going on? You know who the guy is but you can’t find him. Or is that not so unusual and I’m just being naive?

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: Well, if you’ve taken a look at the actual “wanted” poster, which there are several photographs of Mr. Cunanan, he looks like your average Joe. He can slip in–in South Beach, I’ve seen the poster–I can’t tell you that if I came face-to-face with the man, I would be able to recognize him.

PAUL SOLMAN: Is that right? You mean, even though you’ve been covering this and you’ve been looking–

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: I’ve been covering it. I’ve been looking at people all day, turning my shoulder, saying, gee, that looks a lot like him, so I can see where it would be very difficult to find him, to track him. He doesn’t stand out.

PAUL SOLMAN: Even though he’s been on–I read–on “America’s Most Wanted” TV show five times now?


PAUL SOLMAN: You just–it’s not that the authorities are doing something wrong; it’s just that he’s hard to find?

TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND: I can’t–there has been some criticism of the authorities; that perhaps they should have gotten the word out that Cunanan was a suspect in killing Mr. Versace earlier in the day; that as soon as they found out about the truck that they should have gone to the public, instead of waiting. I mean, I think we can all sort of second guess that right now, but at this point I can’t–I can’t see really that they’ve done anything wrong. He’s just a very sly fellow, and he blends into the woodwork.

PAUL SOLMAN: All right. Well, thanks, Ms. Drummond, very much.


PAUL SOLMAN: All right. Now, Gianni Versace, the designer, and his importance in the world of fashion. Richard Martin is curator of costumes at New York’s Metropolitan Museum and author of a book on Versace, which came out recently. Welcome, sir, and first, just tell us who was Gianni Versace, if you would.

RICHARD MARTIN, Metropolitan Museum of Art: I think Versace is one of the great designers of the 20th century, the designer, who in the 1980’s and 1990’s really represented pure sexuality in design, not the designer who thought about protocol, thought about ladies who lunch, but really thought about a wonderful sense of the human body, in fact, is the first great post-Freudian fashion designer.

PAUL SOLMAN: I read that you had said that somewhere. What do you mean “the first great post-Freudian” designer?

RICHARD MARTIN: There’s no reticence there in Versace’s work. There is no sense of, oh, maybe I shouldn’t do this; maybe I have a little guilt about the body. Now, think about what he did. Those dresses of the 1980’s–and everyone kept saying he makes women look like prostitutes–but prostitutes were his great model in the 1980’s.

He was thinking about the way in which the street walker–when we talk about fashion learning from the street–well, he picked up the street walker with the sense of its real, unabashed sexuality, the love of the bust; it showing off the body within, so lots of slinky looks, really a sense of the body, but with no reticence whatsoever. You think about fashion history. So often it’s about oh, I want to be right for society, but maybe I’ll try to show off a little bit. For Versace, it was all about showing off the body.

PAUL SOLMAN: Well, some people who are listening to this are going to be shocked by that, frankly, I mean, you know, the idea that you wouldn’t be modest about something that some people feel one ought to be modest about.

RICHARD MARTIN: Well, but I think it is very indicative of the 1980’s and 1990’s. And, of course, part of the way in which he did that was, of course, he allied fashion very much with the worlds of entertainment and media so that, of course, we see some of our great cultural figures, whether they’re Patricia Arquette or Madonna or rock stars of male variety, people who are thinking about a real body pride. And if we think about the way in which people approach themselves, I think in the last years of the 20th century, we’re going to realize that Versace was one of the definitive designers of our time.

PAUL SOLMAN: And also proud of his homosexuality, is that part of what–is that–maybe I’m reading in here, but was that part of–

RICHARD MARTIN: No. I think you’re right. When you think about the number of great homosexual designers of the past, all of whom were in the closet, one of the important things about Versace, and certainly one of the important things about Versace probably to the person who killed him, was this sense that he was open and out there; that his sexuality was also being flaunted. And this is not, again, that world of reticence and decorum. It’s a world of designer. That’s the real, almost physical charisma of Versace.

PAUL SOLMAN: You knew him, I take it?

RICHARD MARTIN: Yes. And he was a man of enormous kind of physical presence, as well, you know, really putting his arm around your back, that kind of thing. He was a man of enormous warm and gregariousness, an incredible kind of openness.

PAUL SOLMAN: Where did he come from, and how did he get to where he got to?

RICHARD MARTIN: He was born under rather modest circumstances in Reggio, Calabria in the South of Italy, and he, in fact, made his way through the business of fashion really in the 1970’s, working under other names, and really it’s only in the late 70’s when he establishes his own label. He’s working to make wonderful, luxurious sportswear, leather skirts for women, wonderful silk blouses.

Then in the 1980’s, I think he comes into that real sense of personal style in which he really does play up the sexuality of the body, plays up the sexuality of men’s bodies too, where he’s making men’s shirts that aren’t boxy in terms of silhouette, but really thinking about the way in which they open at center front to a kind of decotage, like women’s wear, and actually just caress the body. So he’s really thinking in his own way I think in the 1980’s that in the 1990’s looked for all kinds of ideals in art. You–

PAUL SOLMAN: Please, go ahead.

RICHARD MARTIN: You may remember that extraordinary cover of Claudia Schiffer on the cover of “Time” Magazine, April 17, 1995, really in a significant moment, but Claudia Schiffer was wearing a white suit by Versace. But, of course, the important thing, it was not a white suit of, again, the most decorous of ladies, and when Claudia Schiffer wears a white suit, you know there’s a voluptuous body inside.

Versace was thinking about paring down his design, but he knew that when he made and showed us the simple lines of modernism and Claudia Schiffer wore it, that that was the point of convergence between the line of modernism and the voluptuous line.

PAUL SOLMAN: Was he really a significant figure? I mean, you’re at the Metropolitan Museum, after all. You can look back through the history of fashion. Is he a significant figure, or is he more sort of a media star, a media phenomenon, a media manipulator even? Because I see that he always had the stars at his fashion shows and so forth.

RICHARD MARTIN: But I think there was a larger issue for Gianni. It was really about understanding that ours is a media world. He understood fashion as a kind of theme park. I think that’s a foresighted way of looking at the world. It’s a very indicative view of our time. You can’t make fashion for the 1940’s and 1950’s today. And you can’t make it in the context of the few rich, elite people.

The reason why people are impassioned about this death is because he touched so many people. He was a part of the media. And in that sense, I think, you know, one can’t fault him for being someone who is really out there in the world because what he did was make fashion, inhabit that larger world, a world of celebrity.

PAUL SOLMAN: So if you look back, how do you rank him in the annals of fashion, if that’s a fair question to ask? We only have a few seconds, but–

RICHARD MARTIN: To me, he’s going to be certainly one of the top ten or twenty figures in the 20th century, an absolutely critical designer, who really shows us the way towards this love of the body that comes in at the end of the 20th century. He’s truly a man of his time and a leader in his time.

PAUL SOLMAN: Okay. Well, thank you very much for joining us, Mr. Martin.