In mid-July 1997, iconic Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace was shot twice in the back of the head and killed on the front steps of his South Beach, Miami villa. Eight days later and surrounded by police, Gianni’s murderer, Andrew Cunanan, killed himself with the same gun he used on the designer. Today, lovers of the brand that Gianni left behind can partake in a pilgrimage of sorts, walking up the very steps that were stained with his blood and entering the home he decorated in Versace’s signature opulence.
Originally called Casa Casuarina, the structure was built in 1930 by Alden Freeman, a man who loved to travel. On one such adventure, he visited Alcázar De Colón, the Dominican Republic home built by the son of Christopher Columbus, and brought back a brick from the residence that now sits to the right of the Ocean Drive villa’s entrance. Freeman died inside Casa Casuarina in 1937, at which point it was sold and renamed Amsterdam Palace and used as an apartment complex. It passed through numerous owners before being bought, along with the neighbouring Hotel Revere, by Gianni in 1992. The Revere lot was used to add a south wing to the home, along with the decadent pool and garden. It was five years later, on his routine walk home from his favourite café, that Gianni was shot by Cunanan, who was already a wanted man for other suspected murders.
Ancient Greek mythology is present throughout the home, much of it placed originally by Freeman, as well as some by Gianni later on. Through the grand doors stands a Kneeling Aphrodite statue, built in 1928, and a courtyard surrounded by the four Pillars of Democracy. The top two floors are now a hotel, allowing guests to experience the elaborate and lavish furniture and décor, as well as a spa, gym, and rooftop lounge. What is now called the Venus room was once the bedroom of Gianni’s brother Santo, and his sister Donatella, now the face of the Versace brand, once slept in what is now the Signature suite. The property remained in the Versace family until Donatella sold it in 2000, and it was turned into its current incarnation as The Villa Casa Casuarina after a purchase in 2013. Today, the bottom floor holds Gianni’s restaurant, which serves Italian and Mediterranean food six days a week. There is also an adjacent cocktail bar, with ornate tiles made of gold and plush red bar stools: the perfect place to order a mojito and contemplate a shot of Louis XIII cognac. But perhaps most striking on the ground floor is the outdoor pool, which was inspired by Versace’s Marine Vanitas collection and is home to thousands of 24-karat gold tiles; surrounding it are four large urns that were designed by Gianni, as well as a stone mosaic of the fashion house’s legendary Medusa head.
To this day, the motivation behind Gianni’s murder remains shrouded in mystery. What stands crystal clear, though, is the designer’s love of the finer things. To visit the villa now is to experience a sliver of an existence that was stolen too soon, but undeniably well lived.