La dolce vita - Dolce & Gabbana

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2011, 12:00am

Domenico Dolce swoops by, delivering a quick hello here and a handshake there. He's slightly anxious as he makes last-minute adjustments to his fleet of chiselled models backstage at the D&G men's show in Milan. Not far away, the dapper and perpetually tanned Stefano Gabbana is reclining in a sofa. He motions to a butler who offers a drink served in a goblet on a platter.

Welcome to the beautiful world of Dolce and Gabbana.

The brand is one of fashion's most enduring success stories. Sicilian-born Dolce is shy and detail-focused, with a fashion sense inherited from his tailor father and a deep-rooted Sicilian pride, evident in their recent collection. Milanese Gabbana is outspoken and funny with a love for patterns and Baroque aesthetics; and an instinctive eye for trends.

They met in the 1980s, and today their partnership is stronger than ever. 'Before it was just a love affair but now we are more than best friends. He knows everything about me and I about him,' says Gabbana. 'We love each other.'

Dolce (52) and Gabbana (49) still holiday together. Each has their respective boyfriend now, and Gabbana says it's like a family: 'Sometimes we fight, yes, but the most important thing is that we can make it together.'

'It's been the same since we started,' Dolce adds. 'We are different personalities. We discuss and in the end the concept has to be a shared one. If not, we find another.'

Since the late '80s the design duo have helped shape the way women dress with their strong, forward-thinking, Italian sensuality. 'We never had this big moment of fame, because we didn't exactly have one explosion, we grew little by little,' says Gabbana. 'Maybe it's because, by character, we are not like this. We don't think of ourselves as Dolce & Gabbana, famous fashion designers. I know who I am but we don't live life with that in mind.'

Gabbana reminisces about the beginning of their partnership. 'I met Domenico in 1983 when he was an assistant for another designer. By occasion, we also met a chief of the fashion week who decided to give three young designers the last hour of the Milan Collezioni catwalk.'

Dolce and Gabbana debuted and after the show's critical success promptly began their label with a first collection tellingly entitled Real Women. Starting with about Euro1000 to fund their operation, the label, now at 25 years, has grown to almost 4000 employees and 94 own-operated stores globally. 'We never thought we would be so big,' says Dolce, 'When we started, we were young, with no money and no one to support us but my family. But we had a dream. We worked because we loved, and still love, what we do.'

In 1989 they went into beachwear, 1990 menswear, younger contemporary line D&G in 1994, accessories in 1991 and 1992 with multiple awards and initiatives along the way. The label soon extended to sports sponsorships, perfumes, lingerie, and an online magazine.

'We found the right way after three seasons and began to take the intimate part of the woman as a muse,' says Gabbana. 'After a few years we were more influenced by the outer power of women. We took inspiration from Sophia Loren in the '50s and at the same time we started our long relationship with Madonna, who is a kind of mix between Anna Magnani, Sophia Loren and Marlene Dietrich. '

Their career is not without its fair share of controversy. Twenty years ago, it was the sexy image of Loren and thigh-high suspenders on their spring-summer 1991 show invite that ruffled feathers. 'People were shocked - it was a big scandal at the time,' says Gabbana, laughing. Now it might be their latest campaign and the depth of a 50-something Madonna's cleavage that has everyone talking.

Their racy campaigns can be provocative, but they say it's a matter of interpretation.'Some people have a bad eye, a dirty eye, so you see what you want to see,' Gabbana says. 'It depends on the point of view.' This controversial attitude to female sensuality soon won them adoration of women worldwide.

Their glamorous models in the '90s boosted the rise of the powerful and sexual female archetype of the decade. But post millennium, the fashion industry embraced the fawn-like pre-pubescence of beauties such as Russians Natalia Vodianova and Sasha Pivovarova, and Australian Gemma Ward. Although their sweet vulnerability and wide-set Bambi eyes were mesmerising, it never quite commanded the power of the '90s supermodel - an ideal that was statuesque, unabashed, sophisticated and at times terrifying.

Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington types and longtime Dolce & Gabbana girls Naomi Campbell, Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Linda Evangelista ruled the roost. A strength matched by another favourite, Gisele B?ndchen. 'Before we liked to design around one woman, but now we don't have one muse exactly. After a lot of years of researching and experimentation, we feel it was the moment to talk about our heritage - what is the essence of Dolce & Gabbana,' says Gabbana.

The label revisits its roots with its spring-summer 2011 campaign, portraying archetypal Sicilian men and women going about everyday business. Shirtless, sweaty fishermen pull up their catch and fiery women in fitted crochet dresses gossip and shout in the scorching Mediterranean sun; portrayed in Steven Klein's Caravaggio-like compositions.

The designers' dream is still to turn the style into something timeless. 'It's been this from the very beginning,' says Gabbana.

In 1995 they became the first Italian fashion company in China to completely own a store. And despite a large Chinese following, 2010 marked their first visit to China and Hong Kong. 'It was my first time in Shanghai, but it felt like home. There is something similar between the Chinese and the Italians - just the mood. It's very comfortable and the people are not stuffy.' The pair plan to return this month to host a dinner in Beijing. They want to get to know the market, where they intend on opening 30 shops over the next few years, Gabbana adding that 'We want to do something very, very special.'

'The Chinese are so curious and open to fashion,' he says. 'We had a party and met many of the young Chinese generation and saw a lot of very beautiful Chinese women!

'You have to look to the future. It's always been like that; you need to give a voice to young people. We need change.'

Gabbana is grateful for his charmed life but hates the deadlines of the industry. His salvation from his hectic schedule comes in what he calls 'staying calm in my interior peace.'

There's no hope of such respite today. After the 3pm show, he will watch the video with his assistant, return to his office for a 5pm meeting and another at 6pm. Dolce will continue work on the next women's fashion show.

'Peace and serenity is my luxury,' Gabbana adds. 'I go on holiday for my body, but the luxury of peace, and working with serenity - it's a state of mind.'

She's got the looks

Dolce & Gabbana is the label behind the stage costumes for Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite-Le Folies global tour which, following the success of the singer's latest album, kicked off on February 19 in Denmark. A golden corset is the foundation garment for the petite Australian singer's wardrobe, with the designers reinterpreting some of the maison's most iconic pieces for the concerts. Star designers befitting a star.