Tragic fate of young Versace heiress worth $800m
AFTER fashion designer Gianni Versace was gunned down by drifter Andrew Cunanan in 1997, outside the A-lister's Miami mansion, some of the world's most recognisable celebrities gathered to mourn him.
Among those at the memorial service at Milan's Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral, Il Duomo, were Carolyn Bessette, models Naomi Campbell and Carla Bruni, and designers Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld.
Sting, Princess Diana and Elton John looked heartbroken in the front row.
But even in the sad twinkle of all those stars, one person stood out: a little girl, clad in all black and openly weeping.
Allegra Beck, the daughter of Gianni's younger sister Donatella and American model Paul Beck, was not only the designer's beloved niece - she was also now his top heir: set to inherit 50 per cent of his massive company upon her 18th birthday. (Her uncle Santo, Gianni's older brother, owned 30 per cent, and her mother the remaining 20 per cent.)
At the age of 11, Allegra was poised to one day become one of the most powerful women in the fashion industry.
But you won't see any sign of her in the new FX TV series The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. "[Show creator] Ryan [Murphy] shot a scene with Allegra," a source told Page Six at the series' premiere at Manhattan's Metrograph in December. "But he respected Donatella's wishes and took it out. Donatella did not want her daughter portrayed in the show."
The family has since released a statement about the show, saying, "The Versace family has neither authorised nor had any involvement whatsoever in the forthcoming TV series about the death of Mr. Gianni Versace." Versace representatives did not get back to The Post for comment on any of the allegations in this story.
The maternal overprotectiveness is likely an attempt to guard the intensely private Allegra, who has suffered in the past from a debilitating eating disorder and who is now, at the age of 31 and worth a reported $US800 million, rarely seen in public.
"If Allegra sees her own photos or sees herself on TV, she loses her mind. She's got body dysmorphic disorder," said a former employee of the fashion brand's Milan headquarters, who is still in the know. "They say she has a job working with the company, but she's not really running anything at Versace."
Instead, her mother, who is now the vice-president and chief designer of the brand, has stepped into the spotlight in her stead - becoming so notorious for her over-the-top tan, blond hair and deadpan voice that she's been satirised on Saturday Night Live.
While Allegra attended the 2016 Met Gala - shrouded in a high-neck, long-sleeved, floor-length gown - alongside Donatella, she told La Repubblica: "Unlike my mother, I hate celebrity."
The former employee reveals that Allegra's office was painted in her favourite shade of lavender, but she only shows up to her job as a director of the company once or twice a month: "She's utterly insecure, frail and never a contender for design."
Instead, the former employee added, "She just stays [at home] and binges on TV and music."
But something about this quiet, waifish girl captivated her uncle Gianni.
Allegra and her brother, Daniel, now 29 and a musician, enjoyed a lavish childhood outside Milan. According to People, she was two days old when she attended her first Versace show. As a youth, she spent nine years studying ballet - in fact, her uncle got her a birthday gift of dancing with ballet superstar Maurice Béjart.
Over the years, she's used both her mother's and father's surnames at various times, and clearly absorbed the Versaces' love of style. "She was the best dressed little girl in Milan," Donatella told Harper's Bazaar in 2007, with Allegra conceding, "My mom dressed me in silk to go to elementary school. In kindergarten, they sent me home because I couldn't do finger painting in my dress."
Unlike her gregarious uncle and flamboyant mother, she was reportedly a studious, serious child - but also, apparently, not afraid to speak her mind.
"I like to talk to Allegra," Gianni once told Vanity Fair. "Allegra tells me the truth about Donatella. She'll say, 'Gianni, don't worry, she's always a little bit exaggerated.'"
Gianni had two other nieces and two nephews, but Allegra was clearly his favourite. (After his death, Daniel inherited the designer's personal art collection, which reportedly included works by Picasso and Fernand Léger.)
She was said to be besotted by his design wizardry, once reportedly telling him: "You are a magician, Uncle."
She wasn't the only one who thought so. Considered the father of '80s and '90s tough-sexy fashion, Gianni used studs, chain mail and classical Roman symbols, and practically invented the term "bodycon" with his sleek shapes. He had a huge hand in making Naomi (Campbell), Cindy (Crawford) and Claudia (Schiffer) one-name supermodels; dressed rock stars; and always had celeb friends such as Madonna in tow. Elton John is said to have given Allegra her first piano.
When Gianni died, the young girl reportedly felt a tremendous sense of guilt, even telling Donatella she should have been with him. As reported by The Guardian, "When the will was read, revealing her huge inheritance, [Allegra] asked, aghast, 'Why did Uncle Gianni choose me?'"
Although Donatella reportedly sought counselling for Allegra after the murder, fashion insiders in Milan claim Gianni's death sent the girl on a downward spiral. "She was never the same, absolutely destroyed by it," said one insider.
Allegra withdrew - in assorted ways. Many were concerned by photos of the painfully thin teen who, during the early 2000s, seemed only to get thinner. In 2007, the family released a statement that read: "Our daughter Allegra has been battling anorexia, a very serious disease, for many years. She is receiving the best medical care possible to help overcome this illness and is responding well."
She has never discussed her eating disorder publicly, but insiders speculate it is connected to her reclusiveness, which has only grown over time.
As a young adult, Allegra - a dual citizen of Italy and the US - moved to the States to attend Brown University and, later, UCLA, studying acting, French and art history.
"I studied theatre and it pleased me greatly to play parts in little independent films that no one went to see," she told La Repubblica in 2011. "Still, anywhere I went, I was Versace. I couldn't escape, and it did me harm."
Donatella would visit Los Angeles every month and the mother-daughter duo would cloister themselves in a cottage at the Beverly Hills Hotel, listening to Madonna records and going out only to shop at Hollywood's Amoeba record store and vintage boutiques, or for sushi at the pricey Matsuhisa.
Allegra told Harper's Bazaar in 2007 that she spent weekends riding her bike on Venice Boulevard. But she was still under her tanned tiger mum's protection - Donatella wouldn't even let her drive a car, instead hiring a driver for her.
"Hollywood is not really my world," she told the magazine. "I don't tell many people my last name. I go by Beck more than Versace.
"Sometimes my mother looks at Daniel and me," she added, "and says: 'How could I have two children who are so different from me?'"
Adding to her stress, no doubt, was the very public cocaine habit - witnessed by journalists, employees and, reportedly, even Allegra and Daniel - her mother had developed.
Donatella told Vogue she first became addicted to cocaine around 1987, explaining that it started at fashion parties in New York City and Los Angeles.
"I had the best time of my life," she said. "You just feel more awake, more aware. Unfortunately, it doesn't continue like that."
Although Gianni reportedly did not partake in the drug, it was said to be part of the brand's image. As Ariel Levy wrote in New York Magazine: "Everyone knew that there would be coke at the Versace post-show parties (at least after Gianni went to bed), coke backstage (and not just models but supermodels) ... Versace meant whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted it."
Donatella quit cocaine for a while, only to pick it up again after her brother's death, even as she took over the design reins of the family company. Pieces of her life began to crumble. She and Beck split in 2000 (although he has continued at the fashion house as a consultant), and the company skipped the 2004 haute couture collections after Donatella finally went to rehab - reportedly after Elton John staged an intervention at Allegra's 18th birthday party. (The company has denied that the rehab stint and the cancelled show were related.)
"Having a mother like Donatella would intimidate [anyone] - so you can imagine the effect on her own daughter," said a source close to the family. "Plus, look at what her mother's done to her own face, and you know something about the insecurity and distortion that runs in that family."
Meanwhile, under the radar, Allegra tried to pursue her own path for a while, acting as a dresser for Rupert Everett - a family friend - during the Broadway revival of his play Blithe Spirit in 2009. She seems to have given up on acting, perhaps because, as she told La Repubblica: "I hated Los Angeles". Having sold the two places she inherited from Gianni - an Upper East Side townhouse and a manse on Italy's Lake Como - she's said to split her time between the family home in Milan and a family apartment in Soho.
As for romance or even friendships, the former employee added: "I've never seen her with a man - or a woman. She's either alone or only with members of her family."
Allegra has also said that she worked anonymously for a time with a non-Italian designer, helping him organise fashion shows and advertising. "The great part about this work is that I am no one," she said. "I think you can get used to everything, if you feel free, if you are yourself and not what others want you to be, if you don't see a photographer around every corner, if you do not bury yourself in cruel gossip that does so much harm ..."
Indeed, the Milan paparazzi are always on the prowl for Allegra sightings - in 2016, she was snapped jogging with her trainer in a park in Milan - but such moments are few and far between.
But perhaps photographers will get their wish this April at the Met Gala - Dontatella is set to co-host the event, the theme of which is "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination," along with Rihanna and Amal Clooney.
Sadly, the family source believes that the sun may never completely come out for Gianni's favourite heir. "[She's] stunted in childhood, will never develop. She is unlikely to ever function as an adult. This is the effect that Gianni's murder had on her."
This story originally appeared on the New York Post and is republished here with permission.