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Final Paper

Megan Koenig

INTRODUCTION The purpose of this paper will be to examine how the fashion community can direct the behavior of a population both within that community and outside it. This paper will analyze whether this ability to direct behavior is in fact true leadership. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a leader is a person who has influence over others, a person who can give guidance and direction. A group of people can influence the behavior of others. The first part of this paper will determine whether or not the fashion community is able to influence the behavior of others, a basic requirement to leadership. The second part will examine the life and career of Donatella Versace and determine whether she has the necessary characteristics of a leader. This paper will then conclude with an answer to the question “Are members of the fashion community genuine leaders?” FACTS There are myriad forces that impact the behavior of a community, especially that of its young people. One that may not be given enough importance is the impact that fashion makes. TRENDS The most obvious impact of fashion is the phenomenon of “trends.” Certain items sell in extraordinary quantities when they have the endorsement of celebrities. An article in Time Magazine named the twenty-five most influential people in the fashion industry named fashion model Kate Moss among this group. The article mentions that British papers predicted the return of the perm after Moss was shown in photos wearing a wig with curly hair. When Jennifer Aniston got a new haircut on her hit television show Friends, women all over the country went to their hairdressers for “The Rachel.” Fashion designers compete to have celebrities wear their creations to highly publicized events such as the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards, and the Grammy Awards. Six designers spent as much as $500,000 each on creations in competition for Gwyneth Paltrow to wear to the Oscars. Few people will forget the Versace dress that Jennifer Lopez wore in 2000. The dress made headlines and spawned many reproductions. EATING DISORDERS The vehicle by which the fashion community conveys its ideas to the public is the media. The media gives the public images that are ideals. In the case of fashion, the models in fashion magazines, commercials, movies, and on television are many of the most beautiful people in the world. In print advertising the images are usually retouched to make them prefect. These images have been shown to be detrimental to the very women and girls who are their intended audience. Fashion models have received much criticism for many years about their size and the impact it has on the public. One of the first well-known examples was in the 1970s with the model who was so thin she became known as “Twiggy.” More recently in the 1990s, Kate Moss and the design house she modeled for, Calvin Klein, were criticized for ads in which she appeared emaciated. Some went so far as to say that instead of a healthy woman she looked like a young boy. Many said that she was setting a bad example for women and girls who could never be as thin as she was and who went to drastic measure to try to match the ideal of such a thin woman that was becoming accepted by society. Images such as these damage the body image and self esteem of women and girls. As a result, they may also contribute to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. There is little doubt that this link exists, but far less is known about at what stage in a female’s life these images have the most impact. In a study done by a student at Arizona State University, girls in the fourth grade were divided into groups. Some groups were shown slides of ideal-thin women taken from the pages of fashion magazines, while others were shown girls of their own age that had ideal body types. The girls that were shown the slides of their ideal peers “had a general lower self-concept and felt less intelligent, happy, and physically attractive” than the girls who viewed ideal adults. The study seems to suggest that the images of ideal adults have the greatest impact on adult and adolescent females. Another study done by at the University of Texas at Austin showed that viewing prototypes (of magazines) filled totally or partially with thin models had an effect on the drive for thinness of the participants. From the previous discussion, it is clear that the fashion community has the ability to direct the behavior of the population. The direction that the behavior takes can be a positive one or a negative one. Some designers are active in philanthropy. They have held fashion shows and other events to benefit charities. This is an example of the positive direction the leadership of the fashion community can provide. The example of eating disorders provides the student of leadership with an example of the indirect results of leadership. Therefore, a discussion of the leadership qualities of one of the leaders of the fashion community is relevant to the study of leadership. ANALYSIS Donatella Versace holds official positions in the Versace Group. She is Vice-Chairman of the Group, the Style & Image Director, and the Creative Director. She also leads with unofficial authority. She exhibits many of the most important leadership characteristics including, determination, selflessness, adaptability, creativity and vision. BACKGROUND Gianni Versace S.p.A. was founded in 1978 by Gianni Versace, and today the Versace Group is one of the world’s leading international fashion houses. It designs, markets, and distributes luxury clothing, accessories, fragrances, makeup, and home furnishings under several different brand names including Versace, Versus, Versace Jeans Couture, Versace Classic V2, Versace Sport, Versace Intensive, Versace Young and Palazzo Versace. The many teams of designers and stylists all work under the direct supervision and guidance of Donatella acting as the Creative Director. Versace products are distributed in exclusive boutiques, department stores, and multi-brand boutiques in sixty countries. Versace employs over 6,000 people, both directly and indirectly worldwide which has led to sales of more than 822 billion lira and net earnings of 18 billion lira for the 1999 fiscal year. One of Donatella’s projects was the top-secret project, Palazzo Versace that opened in time for the Sydney Olympics on Australia’s Gold Coast. It is a six-star hotel completely furnished with Versace furniture and is the first of seven planned international Versace hotels. The hotels have rooms that range in price from $400 to $4,000, have a spa bath and lagoon overlook, and are expected to draw such prestigious guests such as Madonna, Naomi Campbell, Liz Hurley, and Elton John. Donatella Versace was born the fourth child of a businessman and a dressmaker to the aristocracy in 1959 in Reggio di Calabria, Italy. Her brother, fashion legend Gianni, was ten years older than her but the two were very close and often went out together. Even while still in college studying languages at the University of Florence, she worked with her brother’s company handling public relations and advertising, helping to define Versace’s signature advertising style. She joined his company full time after college and many credit her with being Gianni’s muse. Gianni always passed ideas through her and would cancel plans if she objected. She started of designing accessories and went on to create the children’s line known as Versace Young and was then named Head Designer for Versus, another of Versace’s lines dedicated to those on the cutting edge of fashion. Donatella has two children. Her daughter, Alegra, was born in 1986 and her son, Daniel was born five years later. She is married to a former model, Paul Beck, but the two spend much of their time apart due to busy schedules. DETERMINATION From the start of her career working with her brother, Donatella’s “bravura and determination made her integral to Versace as the company grew.” The murder of her beloved brother in front of his Miami villa on July 15, 1997, hurt Donatella deeply. She took her family to a private retreat to mourn together and cancelled the Spring-Summer 1998 collection. After a brief time, she realized that “the show must go on” and she must fulfill her promise to her brother to take over the company. Since his she has “upped the profile of the Milanese fashion house into the stratosphere, helping make Versace the label of choice for celebrities the world over.” It is an important quality for leaders to posses to be able to keep going through tragedy and adversity. It has been said that anyone can lead a population through good times, but it takes a true leader to lead through bad times. Donatella not only kept the company and its employees going through tragedy, but helped the company to reach a whole new level of success. Leaders must also deal with the threat of violence or assassination. Donatella has dealt with this issue by having tight security around her and her family since the death of her brother. SELFLESSNESS When she returned to the world of fashion design after the death of her brother, Donatella was faced with the challenge of creating the new line herself. Her first collection was rated a huge success. Its show had a number of celebrities in attendance. Donatella credited the success of the show to the seamstresses and models and dedicated the show to her brother and his love of the business and the staff. For leaders to maintain the confidence of their followers, it is necessary that he or she share the credit for success. Followers will not long stand by a leader who only takes credit for him or herself and does not share it with the other people who made the success possible, for a leader can not be successful without the help of others. ADAPTABILITY The world of fashion is an ever-changing one and to stay competitive, a design house must stay with the times. Donatella improved the Versace house by bringing in more “sensibility.” The collection now is “more in tune with the modern career woman.” Donatella is inspired by role models of society, many of whom are close friends of hers, including Madonna, Naomi Campbell, and Courtney Love. She has been able to create more variety within the collection while still maintaining the basic character that began with the creator Gianni. Even at the beginning of her career, she was invaluable to her brother as she helped him to stay in touch with the younger crowd because she loved to frequent nightclubs and other social hotspots. It is vital for leaders to be able to change with a changing world. It is perhaps one of the most often mentioned characteristics in the study of leadership. Donatella has clearly shown that she has the ability to change to stay with her consumers, allowing for the continued success of the company. CREATIVITY AND VISION From the beginning of her career, Donatella has shown creativity, innovation and vision. She is credited with coming up with the idea of having well-known models walk the runway in her fashions, knowing that it would increase publicity given to the event and the Versace label. Celebrities have been used in advertising campaigns as well, including Sting, Bon Jovi, Madonna, and Courtney Love. Most sources credit Donatella, saying she “has guided the brand into the new millennium, meshing heritage and innovation to keep Versace distinctly subversive yet indisputably elegant.” Those in the fashion industry rave about her ability to constantly take fashion to the next level, finding ways to go “shorter, brighter, louder, and, of course, better” than the rest of the world. Reviews comment that Donatella brings her “own confident point of view” which translates into unique fashion creations such as putting her name or initials on the backs of suits and dresses. Donatella was able to keep the influence of her brother, taking ideas that he loved and making them into something new. Creativity, innovation and vision are characteristics that a leader must have to come up with solutions to problems that are always changing. A leader must be able to look at a situation and find a way to solve it that will preserve the integrity of the organization as well as help that organization to move into the future. Donatella Versace clearly demonstrated that she has a vision of where her company can go and the creativity to find a way to get there. CONCLUSION The previous discussion has shown that the fashion community is a leader of the population in the most basic sense of the word; it has the ability to direct behavior. Therefore, it is important to look at some of the leaders of this community as they have an influence on the population. Any student of leadership must look at the various factors that can influence the behavior of potential followers. True leadership requires more than just this ability to make people do something. It requires important qualities like determination, selflessness, adaptability, creativity, innovation and vision. Many designers embody all of these characteristics, and Donatella Versace is just one example. It is said that fashion designers are like the directors of movies. While fashion models, like movie stars, are usually the ones in the public eye, the designers are the ones making the decisions that determine the success or failure of a venture. Therefore, it can be concluded that not only is the fashion community an important influence on the people of the world, but many of the prominent figures of the fashion community are in fact true leaders.