Article by Alexis Masino, Copyright 2018
A black silk surface is swallowed up by bright hues of gold and electric blue creating the appearance of a fiery gate. God-like stone figures are the main characters in view, but there are small portrayals of animals accompanying them: elephants, birds, giraffes, dolphins. And at the very top of each point in the gate, there is a golden globe of the world held up by cherubs. This surreal scene and work of art created by Gianni Versace himself takes its final form on a button down shirt, and sells for a market price of $1300.
The man beneath the shirt is Bryan Abrams, owner of what is rumored to be the most expansive private Versace collection in existence. Totaling over 1,200 pieces of Versace including shirts, ties, jewelry, watches, shoes, limited edition Barbie dolls, and even a one-of-a-kind fuschia jacket, his collection is renowned worldwide. In the world of fashion, Bryan Abrams is Versace Man.
But Abrams was not always so passionate about fashion. In fact, he was completely indifferent. Weighing over 200 pounds in his youth, Abrams had no particular interest in clothing. “I mean I never cared about clothes, I always made fun of guys who read GQ and stuff like that.” Abrams says he limited himself to the section in stores called “Husky” for lack of better options.
It was not until after he graduated from the University of Delaware that Abrams lost a significant amount of weight. “I started to take up running and I wanted to impress this girl to get a date, so I invited her to see my first race.” By the end, he was so far behind that they picked up the finish line for him. His plan might not have worked the way he wanted, but it reaped its own benefits.
“It spurred me to the point to get serious and I started running and running and running…Before my car accident 5 years ago, I had run 50 marathons.”
Abrams dropped the pounds quickly with his running. In his new fit shape he decided to get into fashion, and started with Philadelphia’s own designer Willie Smith. After a self proclaimed “preppy” phase, Abrams started reading outlets like GQ and developed an interest in high fashion. He started with the big names of the time, until one day when he noticed an ad in the paper to meet a fashion designer and decided to attend. Not yet a big name in fashion, it was a meet and greet with Gianni Versace.
Abrams fell in love with the collection. He immediately bought and changed into his first Versace shirt. And from that day, Abrams had a new passion.
“Versace is my life.”
And he means it. His entire wardrobe consists exclusively of Versace — 6 walk-in closets and 12 wardrobe sets full of it — and has since before the ‘80s. Abrams has struggled to protect his precious collection, seeking insurance coverage overseas by Lloyds of London when no company in America would cover the items of clothing.
His vacation plans revolve around Versace as well. Destinations are chosen based on where there is a Versace retailer Abrams has not visited before. The new store will be the first task checked off the list, then the city’s history and other attractions. As for the Versace stores in North America, Abrams can list each one along with the name of its respective manager.
Even when he is not shopping, he visits his favorite stores to catch up with the employees. They know him by name and invite him to their parties. The friendships are genuine. And of course, Abrams always has first pick from new collections.
“People think it’s an expensive hobby but it’s not.” Abrams compares his Versace hobby to any other, explaining that it’s all just about what you choose to spend on. “Some people collect books, some people go to the country club, whatever their passion is.” Versace is Abram’s passion.
For 32 years, Abrams managed a large ticket selling agency in Wilmington, Delaware until they were bought out five years ago. Not much later, he was involved in a horrible car accident. After a few surgeries, Abrams started to recover. He began working in sales at Nordstrom, but did not keep that position very long due to surgery complications.
Now, Abrams focuses most of his time on his passion for Versace. He attends parties and events regularly, as well as store openings and of course, every fashion show. The other passion that has always remained constant in Abrams’ life is his love for his family.
Bryan Abrams was the oldest of five brothers and was raised by a single mother. There was always a lot of love. “It was the single best family dynamic because of my mom. Everything that she did in her life was for her boys.” Abrams remained close with his mother for the rest of her life. She had epilepsy, was a chronic smoker, and developed emphysema as well as cataracts and glaucoma. He lived with her and took care of her until she passed. But despite her conditions, Abrams says “she still had a zest for life and for her boys and so she imparted that on to us.”
The Abrams boys all went on to lead quite impressive lives. This includes work as a published award winning photographer, despite being self taught, a top salesperson, a ballet dancer, and school teacher. The brothers remained close throughout their lives and family was always Abrams’ absolute top priority in life. Although it’s now just Bryan Abrams and his brother Ronnie, the two still keep in touch and Abrams has family photos around his childhood home, where he still lives today.
Save his love for his own family, it seems there is little Abrams values more than this coveted Versace wardrobe, other than the Versaces themselves and his Versace family.
“The day Gianni died, I had several phone calls in minutes.” Twenty years later, Abrams is still devastated by the death of his longtime friend and idol. Abrams says Gianni treated everyone kindly, no matter who they were and always treated Abrams incredibly. And Abrams exhibits this same feature, speaking as fondly of his friendship with Gianni’s limo driver, Cleveland, and the employees of the company as he does of Gianni and Donatella themselves.
He even still maintains his friendship with the family and company and attends each of their fashion shows by personal invitation. At each show, Abrams has a front row seat. He meets CEOs and important company people as well as celebrities. One of his fondest memories is sitting next to Elton John at a show.
Abrams is also a factor in the corporate sector for Versace headquarters, though he would never officially join the company. He was the motivator for opening the Versace store in King of Prussia mall, and also responsible for having it shut down when he disapproved of how the place was managed. Now he sticks to his favorite outlets in New York and Milan, where the store owners and employees know him on a first name basis.
Considered a sort of Ambassador for Versace, Abrams is known and remembered by many. He always stands out wearing a bright Versace shirt, causing people to inquire about the fashion and ask to take photos of him. People have remembered him a long time later after meeting him once. For years, he was a bright Versace icon in the floor seats at every Philadelphia 76ers game. He keeps in touch with the important company people and they value his opinions. On an interesting occasion, his contact information was even mixed up with a CEO.
After Versace North America hired a new CEO, also named Bryan, Abrams started getting emails from the Milan CEO, Jonathan. The emails contained sales projections and other important company information. Though the information was meant for the CEO, Abrams’ had been the go-to Bryan on Jonathan’s contact list.
Abrams loves to talk about Versace as much as he loves to wear it. He is always willing to discuss the brand, the fashion, and his love for it. In Fall semesters, he lectures about Versace and brings in parts of his collection to be photographed for Tony Ward’s Fashion Photography course at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Fun, sexiness, and overtness is Versace, and like no other. I mean, there’s others who have tried to copy him but he was and still is the king.” Abrams loves Versace for its colors, uniqueness, and the way it the fashion can make the wearer stand out. No matter the occasion, be it a fashion party or just a day in the city, Abrams can always be spotted displaying a
decadent Versace top and matching shoes. Even the license plate on his baby blue Fiat reads VERSACE.
“How you dress is who you are. It’s the first thing people look at and it determines how they see you.” And Abrams certainly dresses for who he is: Versace Man.
About The Author: Alexis Masino is a freshman enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020. To access additional articles by Alexis Masino, go here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/alexis-masino-werk/