Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Versaces Halt Unauthorized Book on Slain Designer
Like her late brother Gianni, Donatella Versace is no shrinking violet when it comes to revealing the more sensational aspects of her public life. Ask her about her diamonds, her famous friends or the time she flew a New York hairdresser to Milan to give her and Naomi Campbell extensions while they ate spaghetti in Ms. Versace's marble bathroom, and she will tell all.
The corn-haired Ms. Versace, who assumed creative control of the $560 million Versace fashion empire after her brother's murder in 1997, is similarly candid about her family's complex relations. When asked in March about a rift between her and Antonio D'Amico, Mr. Versace's companion of many years, she replied: ''My relationship with Antonio is exactly as it was when Gianni was alive. I respected him as the boyfriend of my brother, but I never liked him as a person.'' Ms. Versace smiled. ''So the relationship stayed the same.''
But as with even the most public personalities, there are apparently limits to what Ms. Versace and her other brother, Santo, the oldest of the three Calabrian-born siblings and the company's chief executive, want revealed about their family and business -- and by whom. New York, lawyers for the Versaces effectively stopped the publication of a controversial biography that would have depicted Mr. Versace as a colossal talent who, behind the glamorous facade of palatial homes and celebrity-filled fashion shows, bullied employees and berated journalists who wrote unflattering reviews of his collections.
Along with depictions of promiscuity on the part of the designer, the book, which was in galley form and set for publication on July 1, also painted an unflattering picture of the life styles of the surviving siblings. It was this latter material that apparently prompted the threat of legal action.
Canceling a book so near its release date is not all that rare, but in the case of ''Undressed: The Life and Times of Gianni Versace,'' an unauthorized biography by Christopher Mason, the decision by Little, Brown raises questions about the kinds of pressure, legal and otherwise, that a powerful fashion house can bring to bear on a publisher, an author and his sources.
Mr. Mason maintains that in their effort to stop his book, representatives for the Versaces got in contact with people whom he had interviewed and tried to convince them to recant their statements, in some cases, he said, offering legal documents for them to sign.
Just why Little, Brown, a division of Time Warner, halted publication is not clear. Michael Pietsch, the editor in chief (and Mr. Mason's editor), declined to comment, and referred questions to a spokeswoman. In a brief statement, she said, ''In mid-March, we received letters'' from the Versace attorneys ''threatening legal action.'' She added that the publisher ''agreed with Christopher Mason that it could not be published in its present form, and he withdrew it.'' She also said that because the book had been postponed once, last July, and thus had appeared twice in Little, Brown's sales catalogue, the publisher was opposed to another delay that could diminish interest in the book.
''It would be impossible for Little, Brown to sell the book yet again,'' the spokeswoman said.
The Versaces, through their press agents, Ed Filapowski in New York and Emanuela Schmeidler in Milan, said that they were satisfied with the decision by Little, Brown to kill the book, which they said they had opposed from the outset.
When it was announced by Little, Brown on the day that Mr. Versace died that Mr. Mason had been signed to write a biography, to the grieving Versaces the author appeared to be an opportunist. The family have said they further resented the inference that Mr. Mason -- a freelance writer of style and architectural articles for a number of publications, including The New York Times -- was a close friend of the designer (all agree that they had met only a few times, in 1997).
Mr. Mason was shunned by the Versaces, and Mr. Filapowski said that his firm sent letters to potential sources asking them not to cooperate with him.
To make matters worse, at least for Mr. Mason, who accepted a six-figure advance, he had agreed to complete the biography in six months, and he was unable to do so, which is why the book was shelved the first time.
Two months ago, after bound galleys of Mr. Mason's manuscript had been sent to magazine editors for review, a report appeared in The New York Post saying that the author had hired ghost writers to draft chapters of his book. The suggestion that not all the reporting was his own seemed to be another strike against Mr. Mason's credibility. Mr. Mason said that it was the suggestion of editors that he employ ghost writers, though he said that most of that material was scrapped with the first draft.
On Monday, Mr. Filapowski said: ''It is apparent that Little, Brown lost confidence in this manuscript. The manuscript is full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations and clearly could not be salvaged. We did what anyone else would do under the circumstances, which is to defend ourselves and our name.''
From Milan, Ms. Schmeidler added that the objections of the Versaces were not based on unflattering depictions of the family, but rather on the veracity of Mr. Mason's reporting. ''It's not about a good biography or a bad biography,'' she said. ''It's about a serious biography.''
But Mr. Mason and people familiar with the legal discussions that took place say that Little, Brown's decision to cancel the book had little, if anything, to do with the veracity of the reporting.
Beginning last December, Mr. Mason's manuscript went through an extensive legal review, he said, and again in early spring when attorneys for the Versaces threatened to take legal action if changes were not made.
A number of changes were made, Mr. Mason said, though some of the most unflattering material passed the initial scrutiny of Little, Brown's lawyers. ''I felt completely confident about my reporting, and I had substantial documentation,'' Mr. Mason said. ''I felt, sure, we were having problems, but they could be easily surmounted.''
At the same time, Mr. Mason said, he began to receive ''terrifying, whithering'' phone calls from sources, about 10 in all, who he said told him they had been reached by the Versace attorneys or family representatives and told that they could face legal action if they didn't recant statements they had made to Mr. Mason.
''They were obviously extremely scared,'' said Mr. Mason, who on the advice of his own lawyer declined to give their names. ''I certainly got the feeling that a lot of people were intimidated by the implications of talking to me for this book.''
Mr. Filapowski denied that there were any attempts to intimidate sources.
Mr. Mason acknowledged that his project had been dogged by problems from the start. It had been his intention to ask Mr. Versace, whom he visited in Miami in the spring of 1997 after writing an article about his New York town house for The Times, to collaborate on a book. He had planned to see Mr. Versace in August at his home near Lake Como, in Italy, and was drafting a proposal when the designer was killed. ''If he hadn't been interested, frankly, I don't know whether I would have done the book,'' Mr. Mason said.
Against his better judgment, he said, he agreed to write ''Undressed'' in six months. ''I have to admit, you know, to a certain amount of a naivete in this,'' he continued. ''Obviously, I wanted to do an extremely thorough, thoughtful, balanced, scrupulously researched account of Gianni's life. No one can do a book in six months.''
Mr. Mason may have been out of his depths in other ways. Without a deep knowledge of the idiosyncratic fashion world, and because the Versaces effectively closed off access to many of the primary sources who could have given him greater insight into the family, Mr. Mason's perceptions may not have been fully informed. For instance, he seemed surprised when told of Donatella Versace's comment about Mr. D'Amico, which is typical of her brusqueness. ''I'm amazed to hear her say that,'' he said.
Yet, after everything he has been through, he has at least seen one reality of the fashion business. ''Image is so important to a fashion house,'' he said. ''For the Versaces, I'm sure, it's an economic decision. I don't think it's just vanity. It's a giant commercial decision. It's business.''
In recent years, the Versaces have successfully sued several British publications for libel, winning in court or settling for damages and a public apology.
Mr. Mason's publisher, despite canceling his contract, paid his advance in full, freeing him to sell the book elsewhere.
He added, sounding fatalistic: ''They've won, basically. The book isn't coming out. They won.''
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