The Versace Experience

Here, this is the spot," Jeffrey said as he guided Karen a few inches to her right. "That camera there is CNN."

Settling into the prescribed position, the 28-year-old part-time model adjusted her tight black top so that her considerable cleavage could indeed be considered by millions of viewers around the world. She then straightened her short white skirt, ran her fingers through her long raven hair, and smiled into the camera. A few feet in front of her, Miami Beach Police Det. Al Boza, the supposed focal point of the camera's interest, was briefing more than 100 reporters on the latest developments in the previous day's murder of Gianni Versace.

As Boza answered questions from the throng, Jeffrey fielded calls on his cell phone. "We're on in California," he told Karen as he talked to a friend on the West Coast. "We're on CNN right now." Karen's formidable smile brightened. On the ground in front of the CNN camera was a monitor displaying the picture that was being beamed around the world. "There we are," she squealed, recognizing herself in the background of the shot. "You're in the screen talking on your phone," she told Jeffrey. "How funny is that? That is cool. That is cool."

After receiving his third call, Jeffrey noted that apparently the picture was so clear that one of his friends had commented on the amount of chest hair he had billowing over his tank top. For nearly twenty minutes, Karen and Jeffrey barely moved.

Of course, it would have been easy for the photographer to tighten his picture of Boza to exclude Jeffrey and Karen. But in the same way that Karen obviously had a desire to be on television, the producers at CNN were just as interested in having her shapely figure in their shot. After all, sex has always been an integral part of selling Versace.

Following the police press conference, Karen explained why she was there. "I just find it all very interesting," she said. "It interests me just knowing that there is somebody out there like that who is killing people. It's a weird feeling."

The pair said they respected Versace. "He was very generous," Jeffrey said. "A very soft-spoken guy," Karen added, though later she admitted that she had never actually met him. "I've seen him around the News Cafe," she said.

Both Jeffrey and Karen also claim to have seen Versace's alleged killer, Andrew Cunanan, hanging around South Beach. "I first saw him three weeks ago," Jeffrey said, as Karen nodded in agreement.

A reporter for New York's Newsday then interrupted the conversation, asking, "Are you a model?"

"Yes," Karen smiled.
"Did you model for Versace?"
"No," she admitted. "I never worked for him."
"Oh," the Newsday reporter said as he quickly walked away.

Ironically, nobody understood the power and the draw of celebrity better than Gianni Versace. It was never enough to simply introduce a new line of clothes; his fashion shows had to be events unto themselves with celebrities such as Madonna and Elton John lining the front row, and a specially commissioned rock and roll soundtrack blaring for each affair. As a result, his shows were dubbed "The Versace Experience."

"He relished media attention, and masterminded it," Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue told the New York Times last week, "and everybody followed in his footsteps."

In life, or at least on the runway, Versace was known for celebrating what many considered the more garish and vulgar elements of society, marrying the elegance of fashion with the crassness of pop culture -- from the pastel T-shirts and linen jackets worn by Don Johnson on Miami Vice to the sultry dresses desired by Elizabeth Berkeley's character in the hideous movie Showgirls. Now, after his death, the Versace experience has turned into a festival of bad taste. Call it Gianni-palooza.

Lured by the blood-stained marble steps and the klieg lights of more than 30 television crews from around the world, the curious come to gawk at the spot where Versace fell. In front of the mansion at Eleventh and Ocean, tour buses now stop to allow their passengers a chance to take pictures, and young women in convertibles drive by holding video cameras to capture the macabre moment.

Many of those who have flocked to the scene admit that before the shooting they had never heard of Versace, whose fashions were far too expensive for the average person's closet. They're here, they explain, because this just seems like the place to be. Besides, it's free entertainment.

Others, though, appear more sincere in their grief. Eleven-year-old Giovanna Scavone and her twin brother Pascual asked their nanny to bring them to the Versace mansion the day after the shooting so they could say a prayer. "We wanted to come yesterday," Giovanna explained, "but it was too crowded."

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede