The voice was strong, deep, firm: “Am I happy with who I am?” asked the woman, her words reverberating over the echoing, empty building.
The music continued: “Am I happy with the people around me? Am I happy with the way my life is going?”
As strobe lights swirled over the vast space and the 1,000-strong audience, the Versace show started: strong, bold, a forward march of military khaki colours and tailored clothes.
Donatella Versace was at war, but only with her earlier, seductive, sexualized designs. The music she chose was “Transition” by Portuguese producer and DJ Violet and Friends, the song originally recorded for International Women's Day.
Presenting the show in the enormous space of the Fiera building where Milan Fashion Week started half a century ago, was an overwhelming statement about change from Donatella.
Backstage, the designer embraced a tearful Naomi Campbell, overcome with emotion, and the towering Heidi Klum. “Together we can change the world,” Donatella said.
Who could have imagined that Versace would be an overpowering show in the Milan spring/summer 2016 season? Or that Donatella would throw out so many of the familiar brand symbols, from snakes to sexuality? If there were Medusa heads, they were discreetly hidden inside the tailored clothes, on belts or utilitarian bags.
And even if sensuality ebbed and flowed from the taut women’s bodies walking the runway, “V for Vulgarity” has disappeared from the brand message.
The show opened with tailored jackets in the unlikely (for Versace) shade of camel. Some were teamed with shorts, others with soft bloomers, the models always walking purposefully in platform shoes.
The collection switched to that particular shade of green that the military call olive drab. It looked fetching with loose blonde hair.
Then came camouflage, with more shades of green, to powerful effect for coats and dresses. Matching army-style bags were carried in the hand.
Next up were frog-green animal prints, perhaps edged in purple and with bare flesh between bra and skirt. Versace called the colour “acid leopard and zebra from an urban jungle”.
Always there was a feeling of strength from a woman taking life in her stride — and in the raw. The unfinished chiffon edges spelled out that message.
I waited for the feminist words to stop and the party music to blare out to a parade of sexy red carpet dresses and bared skin. But that Beyoncé moment never happened.
Even when long, light dresses wafted over bare legs, there was still a don't-mess-with-me feel about the show.
Donatella’s friends were visibly moved by this display of personal and fashion strength — especially Riccardo Tisci, creative director at Givenchy, who had put an image of Donatella in his advertising campaign.
“It’s the best Versace show that I have ever seen,” Riccardo said. “I had goose bumps.”
I didn't feel as strongly as that, but it was good to see Donatella stretching her vision and taking a bold step in a new direction.