NEW YORK • Donatella Versace has found a new designer for Versus Versace, the younger, hipper Versace sibling line that has been without a creative director since Anthony Vaccarello resigned to take the top job at Yves Saint Laurent this year.
Except her new designer is not, actually, a designer.
He is a 23-year-old R&B singer with a bad boy reputation, a former member of one of the biggest pop bands of the 21st century, a social media magnet with more than 35 million followers on Twitter and Instagram combined and the boyfriend of a very famous model, Gigi Hadid.
In other words, Zayn Malik.
"Versus is the rock 'n' roll soul of the Versace family and has always been associated with music," Versace said during an interview backstage after the recent Versus Versace show during London Fashion Week.
"Everyone from the Foo Fighters to Lenny Kravitz has played at the shows and it is all about rebellion. For me, Zayn was the perfect fit."
Versace added that she first met Malik, alongside his former One Direction bandmate Harry Styles, several years ago and that his quiet, mysterious demeanour had immediately intrigued her.
"That said, I was not exactly a fan of that band," she continued, wrinkling her nose in disdain. "But then, I met him again when he started to date Gigi, who I work with all the time. And he impressed me very much; he was so mature, so thoughtful, treated her like such a gentleman. They are very nice young people, a lovely couple, in fact.
"And then he told me how much he loved fashion. It was then I knew he was the right face for what I had in mind."
"Many celebrities do clothing lines that just aren't relevant," Versace said with a grin. "This one? It will be. He's smart to do it with me."
Together, Versace and Malik will design Zayn X Versus, a capsule collection of men's and women's clothing that will be presented to buyers and the media in the spring and then, in May, will be available in Versus stores and online.
Malik - who wore a Versace robot-like arm sheath to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute ball in May and introduced a 23-piece streetwear line under his name earlier this year - will also become the face of Versus in advertising campaigns.
Not that he was anywhere to be seen when reporters tried to talk to him about the project after the brand's show during London Fashion Week last month.
Malik, who had spent the evening in the front row holding hands with Hadid, had been scheduled for a batch of top-secret interviews once the crowds melted away.
But he vanished, without warning or a clue to his whereabouts, sending a small army of sleek, black-clad publicists into a panicked tailspin.
Versace, for her part, seemed nonplussed.
"Versus is everything that the Versace line is not. It is loud; it is rebellious. I don't want shoppers buying both from Versus and Versace. The houses have different souls," she said. "I wanted Zayn because he can help me talk to his followers. I want to listen to their language. I want to learn more about them, what they think and what they like. They are a new generation that, without working with someone like Zayn, I will never reach."
In the difficult trading climate that many luxury brands have been facing recently, Versus Versace has proved a resilient performer; in the 12 months to March this year, the group announced that retail revenue from sales of the secondary line had doubled, just as it had the period before.
Clearly Versace, whose daughter, Allegra, also works on the Versus brand, has her eyes on further growth - fuelled by the millennial consumer.
"This isn't just a breathing season; this is the beginning of a whole new era for Versus," she said, adding that a percentage of the proceeds generated by the partnership with Malik would be donated to charity.
"Zayn is clearly our plan for now. But I think, going forward, I will keep doing collaborations with other musicians and rock stars as guest designers. It will be like our version of taking the brand on tour."