With fashion capitals like Rome and Milan, Italy is home to a number of prominent luxury labels. However, among its bevvy of homegrown brands, none is arguably as essentially-Italian as Dolce and Gabbana. Established in the 1980’s by Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, the brand has long stood for exuberant, exotic, and erotic Italian fashion. They are unapologetically sensual and sexual, very much like the women they dress and the countless muses they’ve been inspired by, mostly from classic Italian cinema. Their own story, on how they started their multi-million dollar empire, is also something of a romantic movie in of itself.
The Men Behind D&G
Born on September 3, 1958, in Polizzi, Generosa, Domenico Dolce worked in his family’s small clothing business, starting at an early age. A few years later, on another part of Italy, Stefano Gabbana was born on November 14, 1962, in his hometown of Milan. He grew up studying graphic design but later made a career out of fashion design instead. It’s been said that the pair met when Dolce called the fashion house Gabbana was working at in the early 80’s, and the pair soon became co-workers and romantic partners. They eventually became design and business partners as well, establishing what is now known as Dolce and Gabbana.
The duo was invited to be part of the “New Talents” group of Milano Collezioni, headed by prominent Italian fashion promoter, Beppe Modenese. It was here where they had their first fashion show, during a 1985 Milan fashion week, presenting a collection of black lace ensembles, referred to by the press at the time as the “Sicilian Widow” look. The following year, they held their first independent fashion show, entitled “Real Women” where they emphasized the woman’s curves, similarly to how the clothes of stars like Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale showed off their best assets.
The Rise of Dolce and Gabbana
Since their debut, the pair had become a regular in Milan Fashion Week, gaining notoriety for such provocative style. They embraced materials that were deemed taboo, such as leopard skin, sequins, and lingerie silks, and mixed them with more chaste fabrics like cotton and lace. They created their own look of having underwear as outerwear, prominently featuring bras and corsets over dresses and suits. In 1987, they introduced their own knitwear line, which would then be followed by their beachwear and lingerie lines a few years later. By 1988, they’ve established Milan as their official headquarters, working in Domenico Dolce’s family-owned atelier in Legnano, Milan.
By the 1990’s, Dolce and Gabbana became one of the hottest fashion brands both in the fashion industry and in Hollywood. They frequently dress some of the most A-list celebrities, from icons like Isabella Rossellini and Sophia Loren to today’s stars like Jennifer Lopez, and Nicole Kidman. Since they started their menswear line in 1994, a lot of Tinsel Town’s hottest leading men have also worn Dolce and Gabbana, including Matthew McConaughey and Hugh Jackman. Famously, the pair was chosen by legendary pop star Madonna to make her costumes for her Girlie Show world tour in 1993. She also famously wore a bejewelled corset of theirs on the red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival.
Behind the Success of D&G
Similarly to the pop icon, the design duo is not afraid of controversy, especially if it’s in the name of fashion. From the 90’s to the early 2000’s, the brand brought forth some of the most controversial ad campaigns in the history of the fashion industry. A lot of their advertising featured images of women, dressed in their latest designs, in compromising sexual positions. While the images invited criticism, the pair never apologized for them. However, by the late 2000’s to today, their advertising has toned down significantly, focusing more on the fashions than sex. They’ve even begun featuring their celebrity clientele in their ad campaigns, like supermodel Gisele Bundchen for their “The One” fragrance and Scarlett Johansson for their cosmetics line.
Another controversy they faced was a charge and conviction for tax evasion in 2013. This story was all over both the Italian press and world fashion press, especially since there was the possibility of their incarceration. However, by October of 2014, their appeal to overturn their conviction was successful and they were pronounced innocent by the Italian Supreme Court of Justice. Despite that episode, things still went smoothly for the brand, even after they closed down their famous diffusion line, D&G, back in 2011.
By the early 2010’s, Dolce and Gabbana started venturing into new territories, beginning with their lavish Alta Moda (Italy’s answer to France’s Haute Couture). They even transported their clients and guests to exotic Mediterranean islands for their Alta Moda shows. They’ve recently become a hot brand for the youth as well, getting social media influencers to walk their runways during Milan Fashion Week, accompanied by the hashtag #DGMillennials. In 2017, they started hosting “secret shows”, which were live streamed through social media, and using the hottest models in Instagram as their runway muses.
While their romantic relationship may have ended back in 2005, the fashion empire and their collaborative spirit are still as strong as ever. Only time will tell what these tumultuous Italians still have up their sleeves.