Donatella Versace

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She entertains Hollywood royalty and runs her late brother's namesake empire, Gianni Versace SpA, all while rearing two kids and designing 10 collections a year. Although she does it with inimitable flair (and heaps of diamonds), Donatella Versace admits she has had to work hard to gain respect. Lately, the company has experienced some financial difficulty, but severe cost cutting and a licensing deal with eyewear giant Luxottica SpA promise to boost revenue. Here Donatella talks to TIME's Kate Betts about fashion divas, other designers and Madeleine Albright:

Q. Were the rumors that you were in discussions with Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole true?

A. Totally untrue. Anyway, you know, [Tom] didn't want to be my assistant. I asked him [laughs].

Q. Would you ever think of selling Versace to a large conglomerate?

A. No. But that doesn't mean we wouldn't eventually want an international investor to buy a minority part.

Q. Could the Versace brand continue without you someday?

A. Well, I work with a staff, but Versace works because there is nobody like me, if I say so myself! Without me, it's impossible. The brand is associated with me, so ...

Q. If you were not a fashion designer, what would you be?

A. I would work in a music company in a very high position.

Q. Versace has had some financial troubles this past year. What changes are you making to alleviate those difficulties?

A. I have a lot of people helping to restructure. I am pushing them to make changes fast. Normal changes--changing how we buy fabrics, for example. We are also closing boutiques around the world where the business doesn't go too well. I want to open boutiques directed at younger customers, with more accessible prices. Also, in Russia and China we will look to grow. Russia we are already there, but we want to be bigger, and in China we will open eight boutiques in 2004 and 2005.

Q. How have you changed the image of Versace since you took over?

A. I gave a softer touch to the clothes. Made them more wearable. And I paid more attention to day clothes.

Q. Who personifies the Versace image today?

A. Me. A woman with a career who has personality, intelligence and who knows the world--someone like Burberry CEO Rose Marie Bravo, who doesn't wear Versace but she should. I also love Madeleine Albright. She has always impressed me. She's not beautiful; she doesn't have a great body; but she has a lot of charisma and a brain.

Q. Do you think it's surprising that women are never considered for top design jobs at big fashion houses?

A. There are not so many women in fashion when you think about it. In this time, men are still men, and women are under. We think we are even, but it's not true. In every sector of society, that's true. In fashion, women have more sensitivity, more sense of the body, so they know how things fit and feel. Yet there are not many women who study fashion. It's ridiculous.

Q. Are fashion divas over?

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