ROME, Italy (Reuters) -- Allegra Beck Versace, the 20-year-old heiress to the fashion house that bears her name, is suffering from anorexia, the eating disorder which many people blame at least in part on the diktats of the beauty industry.
"Our daughter, Allegra has been battling anorexia, a very serious disease, for many years," Donatella Versace said in a joint statement released with Allegra's father Paul Beck in a bid to stem rumors about her daughter's health.
Allegra inherited 50 percent of Versace on her eighteenth birthday from her uncle Gianni. The fashion pioneer who famously dressed Princess Diana and made Elizabeth Hurley's safety-pin outfit, which became known as "that dress", was killed in 1997.
The girl Gianni called his "little princess" was only 11 when he was gunned down outside his Miami Beach mansion by serial killer Andrew Cunanan.
"She is receiving the best medical care possible to help overcome this illness and is responding well," said the statement by Donatella, who owns 20 percent of the firm and took over as Versace designer after her brother's death.
Versace's public relations office said the family was launching legal action against media that quoted Donatella as saying her daughter had been admitted to hospital and that anorexia was "consuming" her.
No such comments were ever made, the Versace company said in a statement.
"Allegra is not at present staying in any hospital, she is living in her private residence and her condition does not cause particular concerns," it said. Allegra is a student at Brown University, Rhode Island.
"As parents, we are doing our best to protect our daughter. However, due to numerous media reports, we want to let everyone know that we appreciate their concern for Allegra, and we ask that her privacy be respected at this time," they said.
Anorexia is an eating disorder whereby sufferers starve themselves due to an obsessive fear of getting fat.
It has the highest fatality rate of any psychiatric illness, with 13 to 18 percent of sufferers dying, most commonly due to heart disease or suicide, health experts in Britain say.
The fashion industry has been defending itself against sometimes fierce criticism over recent months that its idealized versions of femininity led women to eating disorders.
Last year Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos died of heart failure during a fashion show in Montevideo and Brazilian Ana Carolina Reston died of complications brought on by anorexia.
Since then Spain has banned overly skinny models from the catwalks. Italian fashion houses have signed a pact not to use under-16-year-olds or stick-thin adult models but it is far from being universally observed.