Ocean Drive may have lost its Scarface charm with the assault of commercialisation – the mob these days not so much Italian gangsters and Cuban heavyweights as a bevy of characterless tourists – but there’s one place on the sunshine strip that harks back to its 90s heyday and all of its glittering glory. That place is the legendary Versace Mansion, as it’s unofficially known; the grandiose estate of the late Gianni Versace, shot at point blank on his very own stairs in ’97.
When I was living in Miami earlier this year I was fortunate to be taken on a private tour of the estate situated at 1116 Ocean Drive. After operating as a private members club for years and holding the name Casa Casuarina, the property has recently been converted into a boutique hotel and has once again been renamed, this time as The Villa by Barton G.
The hotel may be fit for the likes of the Kimye and their comparatively cooler friends Beyoncé and Jay-Z – both of whom have stayed there over the past year – the property also features a 30-seat al fresco restaurant, Il Sole (the sun), in the front downstairs. For those seeking a glimpse of the famous house, the dining experience provides a taste of that revered Versace opulence, but it really is just that, a taste. The china may be Versace and the room may be exquisite to the naïve eye, but the true beauty of the mansion lies behind the closed doors where only the hotel guests may go.
Gianni Versace bought the property in 1992 for a mere $2.9 million, only to then spend $33 in renovations. With over 100 million tiles imported from Italy, Gianni created a masterpiece. No expense spared, the 10 bedroom, 11 bathroom home also features a 54-foot long mosaic pool which is lined with 24-karat gold (as you do). An homage to the brand, yes, but Gianni’s artistic vision is also an exhibition of himself. Oh to have been a fly on the wall at one of his infamous star-studded parties! Sadly most of his belongings have been since sold, but the details remain and the furnishings are in keeping with his original home.
Even if something so audaciously ostentatious isn’t your style – this is 90s Versace remember – there’s no denying the attention to detail is impeccable. It’s nothing short of brilliant if you ask me; its very essence a throwback to the time when supermodels ruled and Gianni was king of the fashion world. A lavish oasis that’s practically dripping in money, you can’t help but be impressed.
Unfortunately though despite it beauty, the house retains an eerie feel I don’t believe it will ever shake. Home to a tragic murder, it’s difficult not be distracted by the fact when you’re there – you simply cannot marvel at the mansion’s beauty without being saddened by its unfortunate history. There’s a reason why his family have never been back.
An exercise of sheer imagination, the house belongs in the world of make-believe, each detail in itself a piece of nostalgic art. Murder aside, this is Miami as it should be remembered: over-the-top, glitzy and unabashedly bright. This is how the other half lives, and it’s the stuff of fairytales. The legends live through the walls, if only they could talk.
Welcome to the world of Versace.
Note: These photos were all taken on my iPad when my phone was broken, hence the slightly off proportions.