During Wednesday’s episode of American Crime Story, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Gianni Versace does something incredibly brave for the face of a lucrative fashion brand that posts nine-digit annual sales—especially in the less tolerant cultural climate of the 90s: he comes out in an interview with The Advocate, introducing his longtime boyfriend Antonio D’Amico to journalist Brendan Lemon.
On American Crime Story, Versace publicly acknowledges his sexuality even after his sister and business partner Donatella (played by Penelope Cruz) pleads for him not to—afraid that the revelation could affect sales. While it’s impossible to know what conversations the siblings had behind-the-scenes about Gianni’s sexuality, the designer’s statements in this real-life interview remain on the record.
The actual interview was tucked deep inside The Advocate’s July 1995 issue, and pegged to the release of Versace’s book Men Without Ties, which the designer dedicated “to the three Antonios of my life: my father, Antonio D’Amico, my nephew.”
Brendan Lemon described meeting Versace and D’Amico earlier that year inside a St. Regis hotel suite in Manhattan, and began the interview by asking Versace to describe his three dedicatees.
“Versace calls Antonio d’Amico simply ‘my companion,’ and for once, the phrase connotes not some James-ian spinster being trundled around Europe by a niece or some euphemism bestowed by New York Times obituary writers but a genuine term of endearment,” wrote Lemon, who added that D’Amico sat “in on the interview and chip[ped] in the occasional well-informed comment.”
Lemon went on to portray D’Amico as a partner in both the personal and professional sense—calling him “a higher-up in the Versace empire (whose various lines of menswear, womenswear, couture, fragrances and licensees had combined sales of more than $650 million in 1994) as well as Versace’s intimate for more than a decade.”
The article described the overt sexuality of Versace’s designs and advertising campaigns, and quoted Richard Martin, curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, as saying, “There is no question that Versace’s own out gay identity has been a part of this work. He is in the tradition of the avant-garde, which means that he is willing to risk a lot. And he doesn’t run for cover when his risks provoke outraged response.”
American Crime Story co-creator Ryan Murphy has said that he was deeply affected by Versace’s openness about his sexuality in this particular interview.
“I remember being so proud and excited when he did that [coming out] interview in The Advocate, because at the time there wasn’t really a lot of people who were brave enough to live their life in the open,” Murphy told press this summer.
Ricky Martin, who plays D’Amico in the series, has also spoken about the significance of the scene for him.
“I’m a gay man that lived in the closet for many years. To see the process of Gianni actually coming out and sitting down in front of a journalist to talk about his reality is something that moved me in many ways,” Martin told Us Weekly. “The fact that they couldn’t be as open as I am right now with my relationship is something that really frustrates me.”
In “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Versace’s bold coming out in The Advocate is shown in contrast to Jeffrey Trail’s interview with the CBS news magazine 48 Hours in a segment called “Gays in the Military.” Actor Finn Wittrock told Vanity Fair’s Still Watching podcast that in order to get into the mindset of playing Andrew Cunanan’s first victim, he watched the footage on repeat: “That was my bible. I would watch that and listen to that every day.” You can watch an excerpt of that footage here:
To find out more about the true story of Versace, Cunanan, Trail, and more you can listen to the full interview with Wittrock—as well as past guests Maureen Orth, Ricky Martin, Max Greenfield, Judith Light, Cody Fern, and writer Tom Rob Smith—by subscribing to Still Watching: Versace on Apple Podcasts or your podcast app of choice. New episodes of the podcast air every Wednesday night.
Get Vanity Fair’s HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Julie MillerJulie Miller is a Senior Hollywood writer for Vanity Fair’s website.