Photo: Hunter Abrams/Courtesy of Versace
It seems like anyone can be an icon these days. More moments in pop culture are deemed “iconic” than not, and it has quickly become the world’s favorite adjective to describe anything remotely significant. Overuse has, unfortunately, watered down the impact of the word. But last night, during the inaugural Versace Icons Dinner at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan, I was reminded of its true definition: “A person or thing widely admired especially for having great influence or significance in a particular sphere.”
Hosted by Donatella Versace and Anne Hathaway — who starred in the debut Versace Icons campaign earlier this year and is set to star in a second iteration (launching October 9) alongside singer and global brand ambassador Chris Lee — the intimate event celebrated powerful female representatives and changemakers across all industries. From actors and musicians such as Rachel Brosnahan, Ariana DeBose, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Teyana Taylor to models Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen, and Aaron Rose Philip and authors and activists including Meena Harris, Raquel Willis, everyone in attendance embodied what it really means to be a modern icon.
In theme with the campaign, we asked attendees one question pertaining to their illustrious life and career — starting with Versace herself, whose lasting impact on fashion and culture at large cannot be understated. After Gianni Versace’s tragic death in 1997, Donatella Versace assumed the role of chief designer and vice-president of the company. She has since shaped the vision of Versace, orchestrated trailblazing marketing campaigns, and overseen massive expansions into the accessories and lifestyle categories. When asked which of her many accomplishments she is most proud of and why, the designer paid homage to her beloved brother and sited her commitment to inclusion. “Becoming creative director of Versace and growing the business successfully. I hope that my brother Gianni would be very proud of me,” she told the Cut. “Running a business in which many senior management positions are held by women. Helping support the rights of the LGBTQ+ community as an ally — fighting for freedom, equity, and inclusivity.” Pretty iconic, if you ask us.
Here, Versace’s iconic co-host, along with some of last night’s most notable guests, reflect on their influence and impact.
“One of the things I’ve observed — and it’s been backed up by evidence — is that women often get talked over, especially when they’re not in positions of power. One thing I do and think is important to do is that whenever there is another woman at the table, especially if she’s in a position of less power than me, I always make sure she has a chance to say what’s on her mind. I try to always make sure that she’s able to share her ideas, and try to make sure she knows she’s a valuable part of the process.” Anne Hathaway, Academy Award–winning actress
“For a film I was offered, the producers couldn’t figure out how to pay me. I said, ‘I’d like to have a meeting with the producer, and I would like to let him know exactly who I am.’ We had a wonderful conversation. In that moment, I think I spoke for myself and a lot of other women just like me. At the end of it, there was silence. Then he said, ‘I’m so sorry. I never thought of it that way.’ And this happened not too long ago — how about that?” Sheryl Lee Ralph, Emmy Award–winning actress
“I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately. I’m going to keep it real: At this stage in my life, a lot of women I know are struggling with relationships, divorce, parenting, burnout at work, caretaking, and even loneliness. We’ve endured so much since the pandemic, and I think we’re experiencing a crisis of loneliness. People are craving meaningful connection. So for me, it’s all about being an empathetic listener and spending spending real quality time with the women in my life. You have to be intentional.” Meena Harris, author and activist
“About two years ago, I got second-degree burns on my shoulder during a photo shoot because the stylist’s assistants steamed the garment while I was wearing it. I had to stand up for myself in that moment. I worked the whole shoot because I’m a professional. But afterwards, I wanted to talk about what happened because I wanted to make sure it never happened to anyone else again. I learned it’s important to speak up about my needs and what will make me feel comfortable.” Aaron Rose Philip, model
“I show up for women every day that I show up as my most authentic self as a trans woman. Being able to live in your authenticity as a trans woman opens up the opportunity for so many people to be living in their own authenticity as well. Just by existing as myself and watching my sisters — who are fighting the same fight that I am — exist as their truest self, I think we’re fighting for each other. If we could all hold space for everyone to be who they are and not judge them, we would get to live in such a beautiful world.” Nykita Joy, model and makeup artist
“I feel most powerful after I really center myself and have a good, deep meditation. When I’m connected to my body, that’s when I feel safe but also adventurous and powerful.” Marisa Tomei, Academy Award–winning actress
“I’ve been working with a career coach to help me stand up for myself at work and learn how to say no to things that I don’t have the capacity for. In the art world, reputation is everything. So I’ve always been terrified that if I stand up for myself (even if I’m in the right), it would hurt my reputation. I’ve had to get over that and realize that having the reputation of being a pushover isn’t a good thing either. I can’t run a business by saying yes to things that I shouldn’t be saying yes to.” Hannah Traore, gallerist
“I will always hold close to my heart speaking at the Brooklyn Liberation March in 2020. We were fighting for Black trans lives, and we had a crowd of upwards of 20,000 folks there, so that was exciting. As it was happening, it felt historic. It was one of those things where I knew I was never going to forget that feeling and never going to forget all the people there, in formation. We were connected and ready for collective liberation.” Raquel Willis, author and activist
“I’m a student right now, and last semester I did a project based on my identity and being trans. Being able to go up in front of a group of people and talk about that for the first time — it was not something I expected to feel good about — but it was really powerful.” Cassius Read, fashion design student
“When I was 11 years old, I had the opportunity to work at Elle.com for a summer and create an online zine called Marley Mag. I think that entire summer was a moment of leadership; I was so young and in a board room with all these amazing people who were betting on me. I had to speak up and say, ‘We need to tell more Black folks stories in this project, we need to make sure we’re bringing girls’ and young people’s voices into the story.’ It turned into an amazing piece of work that I’m really proud of, still to this day.” Marley Dias, activist
“I think women foster friendships by exchanging small acts of kindness over and over again and consistently showing up for each other in small ways. I try to do a lot of acts of service and try to do things that help the women in my life feel grounded and spiritually aligned because those are always the things we put on the back burner. Women tend to put everyone else before them and don’t think about themselves enough, so when you prioritize another woman in your life, they’ll really feel that.” Sophia Li, journalist and climate advocate
“I think opening the gallery during the pandemic was a very important moment, personally, and in the context of the art world. Being a young woman, it helped mark a generational shift and new landscape for the art world, post-pandemic.” Nicola Vassell, art curator
“I don’t think women should have to choose which accomplishment they’re most proud of. I think you should be able to celebrate each and every one of them because they’re part of the fabric of who you are. You should love them and brag about them if you can because it’s an expression of your hard work, your ambition, your passion. I’m so fortunate to have found success in the way that I have, so I’m proud of every single accomplishment.” Ariana DeBose, Academy Award–winning actress
Courtesy of Versace, ph. Hunter Abrams Hunter Abrams/Courtesy of Versace