MILAN, Italy — Gianni Versace is a warm, clever man of 49 with a broad forehead, a modest paunch and a casual gray beard. The day before his spring collection was shown to buyers, the press and celebrity friends like Liam Gallagher of Oasis and his fiancee, Patsy Kensit, he talked through a hurried lunch, offering sound bites on a number of topics.
* On elegance: "Some women are elegant with just a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Of course, if you have a nice cashmere jacket too, it helps."
* On originality: "You don't invent nothing."
* On supermodels: "The best models, the ones who last, have personality, something inside. The ones who are only beautiful retire pretty fast and marry rich men."
* On photographers: "I was 20 when I started to work with Richard Avedon. I also worked with Bruce Weber the last 15 years. If I have a voice, they are it. More people are buying the books of Versace photographs than my clothes. Next year, there will be a book commemorating my collaboration with Avedon."
* On the women he dresses: "I want to see my clothing on real women, from Madonna to Lady Di, and thank God I have both of them."
* On the competition: "I respect the work of new talents, especially when they're creative. I was very unhappy with the trend of ugliness, but I never criticize anyone who's doing a trend. You are stupid if you don't understand why Prada did minimalism at the right moment. For a designer to stay young, you have to stay open to new ideas."
* On the current collection: "The show is more classic. It's as if Peggy Guggenheim came back to life and said, 'Dress me.' "
* On best friends: "My dogs, an Irish setter and a golden retriever. I love to be with them in Lake Como."
Salvation Armani: "Salvation," a six-minute video commissioned for the opening of the Emporio Armani store on Madison Avenue in New York last month and shown at the beginning of the EA show here, will be screened on VH-1 daily at midnight during New York's Fashion Week, Oct. 26-Nov. 1. Directed by photographer David La Chapelle and starring Jennifer Tilly, the witty rags-to-rich rags fable shows how Armani saves a sartorially challenged wannabe from losing her fashion soul.
How Glamorous Is That? Although Jil Sander makes a number of pleasing fragrances (the most popular being Woman #4), the scent wafting into her showroom while an overflow crowd waited for her runway show to begin wasn't eau de parfum. A sewer drain had backed up in the alley next to the Sander showroom. The models wore no lip color and pale makeup. The spectators seated nearest the window gradually turned green.
How Glamorous Is That! A dinner party for 250 at the 18th century palazzo that will be Giorgio Armani's new headquarters when restoration has been completed? Very. Milan is a city that shows outsiders little from the street. Many historic homes are built behind high gates that conceal courtyards designed to shelter carriages. Since the imposing four-story stone and marble building several doors down the curving street from Armani's offices and private apartments is still a work in progress, spacious, vacant rooms were filled with candlelit round tables, and one room was converted into a disco for the night. A crowd dressed either in black or white (by coincidence, not by the designer's decree) and fueled by a princely buffet, rocked to such American hits as the long dance version of "Killing Me Softly" by the Fugees.