The character of Donatella Versace makes her entrance near the end of the first episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace. She is wearing her signature painted jeans, black top and double-breasted suit jacket, she looks very glamorous, even while grieving.
With Penelope Cruz playing Donatella in Ryan Murphy’s take on the Versace assassination, a follow-up to 2016’s The People v OJ Simpson, the show offers a retrospective of the iconic style of the Italian house, and the personal style of the woman at its helm. Cruz’s transformation into Donatella is uncanny, with Donatella’s platinum-blonde hair, permanent tan, full lips and dark sharp eyes, and of course a wardrobe of classic vintage Versace.
For a woman who once said, ‘You can be too boring, but you can never be too seductive’, seduction and glamour are in her DNA. Day-to-day looks remain in a significant fashion, which is reflected in Cruz’s opening appearance.
Last year, in the fall two decades after Gianni Versace was murdered on the steps of his Miami Beach mansion, Donatella, creative director of the Versace label since the designer’s death, turned her spring-summer 2018 show into a tribute to her late brother.
Five of the original supermodels returning to walk the runway in honor of the late designer, the show has the fashion industry in a buzz. At the center of the five was the instantly recognizable figure of Ms Versace, dressed in her go-to daytime black with gold accents. Her own style has set a trend as the gold chainmail sheaths worn by many stars today.
Though the Versace style has evolved and even matured, during Donatella’s tenure, a look back through over 30 years of her own looks demonstrate that, save a gradual exaggeration of her physical appearance, slimmer, more platinum and smokier eyes her personal style has remained virtually unchanged. As Donatella, Cruz’s on-screen wardrobe is expertly judged.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in turning Cruz into Donatella was morphing her face—an effort spearheaded by Cruz’s makeup artist, Ana Lozano.
Lozano said that she and Cruz did a lot of their makeup tests back in Spain, before they even got on the plane to film. Together, they sifted through photos of Donatella’s looks, calibrating smoky eyes and contouring to get just the right balance. And if you’ve been wondering what, exactly, is making Cruz’s upper lip so plump on the series, the answer is more obvious than you’d think: it’s an instrument literally called “Plumper.”
“It’s a kind of dental prosthetic to make her lips bigger,” Lozano said. The effect also gives Cruz a slightly different-looking face. “Penelope has enough lips in reality,” Lozano clarified, but in real life, they are a different shape than those of the woman she plays. Lozano also used contouring to finish the look and further define Cruz’s lips—as well as to lightly massage the rest of her features into a more Donatella-like illusion.
Lozano tried using prosthetics for Cruz’s eyebrows, but in the end, it was simpler and more natural-looking to simply bleach them and give them a thinner shape. Then came the eyes—those smoky, smoky eyes. As Lozano notes, smoky eyes have changed over time; in the 90s, they had a rounder look, rather than the more cat-like approach that’s become popular now.
Like the costume team, Lozano worked to make sure Cruz’s “Donatella” physically changed after her brother’s death. She made her skin a little paler, and made her eye makeup just slightly less perfect—“just to make the impression that she was crying and she was not sleeping.” (Lozano adds that she particularly likes Cruz in slightly destroyed makeup, as it “gives more importance to the look.”) For the scenes set after Gianni’s death, Lozano also contoured Cruz a little more aggressively, making her features just a little sunken.
Cruz, Lozano said, was constantly practicing, working to get her portrayal just right; sometimes, Lozano even recorded the actress so she could review her facial expressions, or the way she gestured. “At the end,” Lozano said, “it’s like you press a button; it’s like, Wow. She is Donatella.”