Can you dress with four hands? Ever since Dolce & Gabbana burst onto the fashion scene in the mid-1980s, the answer has been yes. The Milanese Stefano Gabbana and the Sicilian Domenico Dolce together elevated Mediterranean sensuality to a global beauty ideal.
With collections that are bold, frivolous and pious at the same time, they have become the most successful designer duo in history. But in the end they kept getting calls for a boycott.
As a child he loved dolls
Stefano Gabbana was born on November 14, 1962 in Milan and grew up in humble circumstances. His father worked in a printing company, his mother as a porter and cleaner. It sounds like a cliché of a fashion designer, but in his case it really is true: as a child he had an affinity for dolls and really wanted a Barbie. What fails for a long time due to the resistance of the parents, is finally fulfilled with one’s own pocket money.
The youth of Domenico Dolce, who is four years older than him, points even more clearly to a future fashion career. His father was a tailor in Polizzi Generosa in Sicily. Domenico Dolce learned to sew at an early age in his parents’ clothing company, making miniature dresses and at the age of six, or so he claims, his first piece of clothing.
Like so many southern Italians, as a young man Dolce went in search of happiness in Milan. In the early eighties he met Stefano Gabbana in the studio of a fashion designer. Originally a graphic designer, Gabbana had had enough of advertising and was looking for new professional perspectives.
The two men became lovers and founded one of the most important fashion labels in the world to this day. The “&” between their last names remained even after they ended their private relationship in 2005.
Dolce & Gabbana is a family business
It could have all been over after the first collection. Your producer was down. “We had to start from scratch again. But all the doors we knocked on remained locked. I thought: okay, born and died in just one night”, Stefano Gabbana recalls the beginning in an interview with the Italian daily “Corriere della Sera”.
It’s a good thing you can count on your family in Italy. Even better if she’s in the same industry anyway. Domenico Dolce’s parents took over the production of the collection with their clothing company. Key positions are still held by family members. Alfonso Dolce, the brother of the designer, is the CEO of the company. In addition, they have so far resisted any offer to sell even the tiniest of company shares.
They resist the androgynous corporate look of the eighties with a maternal, sensual woman. “Breasts, waist and buttocks – that’s what interests me in a woman,” Stefano Gabbana once said in Marie Claire magazine. Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Anna Magnani are the guiding principles of the designer duo, while Sicily and the family are the living environment for their designs.
In her fashion, strict formality meets exuberant imagination. The pinstripe suit and bustiers, corsets and bras worn as outerwear became her first trademarks. When Madonna, the benchmark of all things show business at the time, had her dressed by Dolce & Gabbana in the early 1990s, the two continued unabated. The company is thriving with sales of over a billion. But in recent years, designers seemed to be ruining their reputation.
Lots of trouble and shitstorms in recent years
There were several calls for a boycott and shitstorms on the internet. In 2015, when they spoke out against artificial insemination and surrogacy in an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama. The gay community, led by Elton John, was particularly revolted. 2017, because Stefano Gabbana proudly posted a photo of Melania Trump in a Dolce & Gabbana dress on his Instagram account.
And finally, in 2018, the absolute meltdown. Ahead of a mega event planned in Shanghai, the designers launched promotional videos in which a Chinese model tries to eat pasta and pizza with chopsticks. What was probably intended as irony came across as racism. In China, people were so angry that the designers not only had to cancel the show, but also publicly apologize.
Forget and forgive everything? Well, the most recent show in Milan at the end of September was another great spectacle. Dedicated to Kim Kardashian, the current queen of curves. Some say that the designers want to polish their image with glitz and glamour. For the others, they have simply come back to themselves.