Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Meet the inspiration for the latest Versace look - the Pope's secretary

The Times January 16, 2007

Meet the inspiration for the latest Versace look - the Pope's secretary
Richard Owen in Rome

Father Georg Gaenswein: 'ethical, austere - and elegant' (EPA/AP)

Donatella Versace has often raised eyebrows — and hemlines — with her outrageous designs for women. Yesterday, however, she stunned even blasé fashionistas by launching a “clergyman look” for men, inspired by Father Georg Gaenswein, the handsome 50-year-old private secretary to Pope Benedict XVI.

The outfit, modelled at the Milan menswear 2007-08 winter collection, features grey-black trousers and jacket with a clerical-style collar. “I was thinking of an austere, severe and ethical man. I find Father Georg’s austerity very elegant,” said Ms Versace.

Spirituality was “not the same as bigotry”, she said, adding that she was open to the idea of civil unions between gays or heterosexual couples. Proposals to make civil unions legal in Italy have divided the centre-left Government of Romano Prodi and aroused fierce opposition in the Vatican.

“It is the moment to display the muscles of the mind, not those of the gym,” Ms Versace said. “Fashion needs more rigour.” She said she had used a fabric that was “as soft to the touch as the wings of an angel”. The result was dubbed “priestly chic” by fashion writers.

Father Gaenswein, an amateur pilot and keen tennis player, hardly ever makes public comments, least of all on the frequent tributes to his good looks in Italian gossip columns. Last year he broke cover to complain about satirical sketches on Italian TV depicting the Pope. “Satire is fine. But these things have no intellectual quality and offend men of the Church,” he said. The sketches have been dropped.

Father Gaenswein became personal secretary to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2003, and moved into the Vatican with him after he was elected Pope. When Father Gaenswein turned 50 last July he gave a rare interview to Vatican Radio revealing their daily routine.

“The Pope’s day begins with Mass at 7am, followed by morning prayer and a period of contemplation,” he said. “Afterwards we eat breakfast together, and my day then begins with sorting through the correspondence, which arrives in considerable quantity.” He said that he accompanied the Pope to morning audiences, followed by lunch together, a “short walk” and a rest, after which “I present to the Pope documents which require his signature, or his study and approval”.

A Versace spokeswoman confirmed that the clergyman look had been inspired by Father Gaenswein, adding: “Few other places in the world are as influential as the Vatican.”

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