The 62-year-old designer lost her late brother - who founded the Italian fashion house Versace in 1978 - in 1997 after he was murdered on his way home aged 50, but the loss of her sibling meant her and her older brother Santo, 72, were forced to take over and run both businesses, including the sister company Versus Versace, although it is believed she didn't want to as she preferred being the ''sparkly participant''.
A source close to the family told PEOPLE: ''Donatella found herself being the central voice and spokesperson for something that she genuinely never wanted to be the main figure of.
''I believe she very much enjoyed her role being the sister and the sparkly participant on the side, without having to carry the burden of the entire house.''
The tragedy caused the blonde-haired mogul ''extraordinary pain'' because she reportedly shared an ''exceptionally close'' bond with her late brother.
The source added: ''They were an exceptionally close family, particularly Donatella and Gianni ... the loss of someone who was the undisputed leader, the undisputed vision, the undisputed creative force and eccentric leader of this incredibly passionate and emotional family, there was extraordinary pain.''
Although Donatella is believed to have never wanted to helm the company, she has been praised by Gianni's friend, Hal Rubenstein, for continuing to ''hold up this temple'' and run Versus successfully.
He said: ''This falling on her was brutal. The fact that this company is basically successful and still existing 20 years later -- some of that credit has to go to that lady. She was strong.
''There were two brands, two polar opposites, in Milan in the '90s in Italian fashion: Armani and Versace, and everybody else sort of fell in the middle. And so she had to hold up this temple. It was a lot. It was an awful lot [of pressure].''
While Donatella showcased her debut Versace collection at Milan fashion Week one year after Gianni's death, her and her family never stopped grieving and are ''still in pieces'' over the loss.
A source said: ''I met them several years [after Versace's death] and ... it took several years for the pieces to settle and for the family to deal with the reality of what had happened -- both personally and professionally.''
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