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Viva Versace at the Latest Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Awards

If there were any doubts that the House of Versace is still alive and thriving long after founder Gianni Versace’s brutal murder back in 1997, those thoughts were soundly thrashed on Thursday Feb. 8 as the two Versaces (Gianni and his sister Donatella, who took over the Italian couture house in his stead) were honored in Beverly Hills with the coveted Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award.

The pair are just the ninth and tenth people to receive that prize, a stylized statue and a plaque on that world-famous street attesting to their lasting influence on the worlds of fashion and style.

It was the party to end all parties, from the black carpet walk into a tented fantasy space created to mirror Villa Fontanelle, the Lake Como mansion where Donatella and family usually entertain. The “Conservatory” was a sea of white, where formally clad waiters proffered flutes of Laurent Perrier bubbly, the special Orinoco Rum “V” cocktail created expressly for the event, and tiny bites of caviar topped new potatoes; further inside in the main tent, the sheer ceiling reflected the moon into the black-and-white space featuring tables groaning with food, top-shelf-stocked bars, and a center pit facing the stage strewn with white leather couches reserved for the über-famous.

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Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony snagged the best seats, front and center, cuddling and kissing throughout the ceremony and musical performances by Elton John and Axl Rose (backed by the latest incarnation of Guns ‘n Roses). Drew Barrymore snuggled in right behind JLo, sipping champagne and singing along to Elton’s “Your Song,” while Eva Longoria perched just over her shoulder.

Supermodels were draped all over, from current favorites Carolyn Murphy and Tatiana Patriz to the grand dames–Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Tyra Banks–and even Brooke Shields, whose modeling career began about the same time that Gianni Versace launched his line, way back in 1978.

“I’ve been wearing his clothes for years,” Shields said, then reacted when we pointed out that she referred to “his clothes,” still thinking of Gianni as the creative force, not Donatella. “Oh, no disrespect to her, but he was amazing. He made me look like a woman before I even was one!”

Many in the famous crowd were thinking of Gianni, and more than a few tears fell (Elton John got all choked up while playing the late designer’s favorite songs) as the night progressed. Rupert Everett, the night’s host, summed up the feelings, saying, “Tonight is a bittersweet occasion. It’s been a long journey for the House of Versace, from triumph to tragedy to triumph again.”

But for Donatella Versace, the night was clearly mostly about her triumph. Poured into a cleavage-baring gold gown, the Italian blonde bombshell was over the moon, hugging and air kissing the dozens of style doyennes who showered her with love. There were Demi Moore and Lucy Liu, Trudi Styler and Teri Hatcher, Jada Pinkett and Jennifer Hudson, Courtney Love and just-about-grown-up daughter Frances Cobain, plus Kelly Preston, Mena Suvari, Christina Ricci, America Ferrera, and co-host Sharon Stone.

Stone vamped on stage in a form-fitting black Versace gown, and enticed one lucky (and very rich) bidder to spend $500,000 on a Versace custom-designed Lamborghini Murcielago sportscar, with proceeds going to Elton John’s AIDS charity. Later, she flopped onto the couch next to JLo and company, and propped up her feet; hopefully those weren’t Versace shoes that were making them ache!

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Versace-loving guys crowded the celebrity mosh pit (“It’s like looking at a cage in the zoo,” one onlooker wagged), too–from old icons (Dennis Hopper) to young guns like Ashton Kutcher and Stephen Dorff. And of course, no Hollywood style party would be complete without Paris; she wandered languidly by, trailed by sometime boyfriend Stavros Niarchos and pal Brandon Davis.

Not to be outdone by the throng of actors, models, and socialites, the style mavens of music were out in force as well. We spotted Prince (and vainly hoped he’d play a set, too), as well as Mary J. Blige, Kanye West, Quincy Jones, and Stevie Wonder.

As the eleven o’clock hour struck and Axl Rose wailed out Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” the crowd began drifting out past groaning tables of dessert toward the exit, where all were greeted with a tiny white shopping bag, packed with a limited edition pair of Versace sunglasses, created expressly to commemorate the couture house’s induction onto the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style. Quite the score, and sure to be listed on everyone’s upcoming tax returns, we’re certain.

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