Dolce and Gabbana are doing it their way. Proof that risk-taking and change are essential for survival.
Even though they’ve been building their company for more than 25 years, turning it into a $1.46 billion business, the definition of “boys” appears to cling to Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. It could be their plucky attitude, as when they decided to fold the D&G brand into their signature line last year. Or an emotional intensity that can drive provocative advertising imagery, ongoing celebrity connections and periodic Madonna fixations. Or their fascination with the fight game and their investment in one of Italy’s toughest boxing teams – not your typical fashion-industry pastime.
Whatever the perceptions, “the boys” are among the few Italian designers of their generation to sustain ongoing commercial success. As they map out their plans for the future of their brand, the designers seem ready to step into a more grown-up box.
Q: What will the year ahead bring in terms of strategies and developments, especially in light of your decision to close the D&G line, which some may consider a daring one?
Stefano Gabbana: The brand isn’t shutting down; it continues to live as it will simply be folded into the Dolce & Gabbana collection. It allows us to expand our signature collection, both in terms of product offer and market range. There is a more interesting entry price, which allows us to open up to other points of sale, just as we develop a higher-end, demi-couture section with richer fabrics, linings in silk georgette or silk satin, or more precious buttons. Quality is essential and we want to convey to our customers the idea that they are buying a well-made luxury product.
Q: You speak about entry prices and being more affordable. Does this reflect your concern for the crisis and crimped consumer spending?
SG: No, not really. When we started out in 1984 there was the crisis, in 1990 there was the crisis, then in 2000; we’ve been in a crisis so many times, but we try to ride it and we want to be able to offer different, quality things at the right price. It’s our own marketing. We do a lace dress, and perhaps it’s not macrame, but jersey. We don’t want to have people pay absurd prices for a T-shirt, it’s about use and function. The D&G logo will appear on T’s and buckles, for example. We offer a different perception to our customers, and many who bought D&G are moving toward Dolce & Gabbana.
Q: Do you see a couture collection going forward?
SG: No, not really. We just launched a jewelry line, and there are other products in the pipeline: a project we will present by March or April, and many with (beauty licensee) Procter & Gamble for example, and much more … but I can’t say anything now.
Q: So, the company keeps growing. Do you mind if people still call you boys?
SG: (Laughs) No we are democratic, we know we are no longer boys, we are men. Maybe it’s because no other big designer emerged after us, or maybe because, as you were saying, we take risks, which is usually associated with youth. It’s not arrogance, but we’ve never been afraid to dare, because if we are sure about something, we just go for it. It’s an attitude. We are free in our decision-making, and we are sort of brave in that sense.
Q: And you also surround yourself with young people.
SG: Yes. We have been young, and we are mature men now, but we remember, we know what it means not to have support. So we appreciate, help and enhance young people. We have young assistants in their 20s, we toss them in the midst and they help show a different point of view. It’s the ingenuity or “ignorance” of youth that should be heeded in every field because it helps you see things in a different light. We always ask young people for their opinion. It’s very important.
Q: You talk about being flexible, helped by the fact that your company remains independent. Suitors must have knocked on your door over the years and, in this era of big conglomerates, it’s not easy to preserve your independence.
SG: Yes, we’ve had plenty of offers, but now it’s about three years they’ve been leaving us alone because they know we don’t want to sell. We started our company 27 years ago, with 2 million lire and we treasure our independence. We could have sold to the best offer, but the company is our offspring. I don’t know if it’s beautiful or not, but it’s what we feel, for the time being. Who knows in two years, perhaps? We don’t want to be the richest at the cemetery. What can we do with more money? Yes, we enjoy the notoriety, but perhaps the most beautiful thing is that my parents, who are in their 80s, would never have imagined this.
My dad, he tells me he would never have thought that his last name was going to be known globally. I realize from their words what it means. He was a factory worker and my mother a waitress. (Domenico Dolce arrives from his studio, apologizing for the delay, caused by alterations needed on the collection.)
SG: We are different, we work together very well and we are very compatible, but Domenico is a real tailor. He is really surprising, he cuts and sews, but not many people know this because few people have access to his studio. He is very shy. Few are the designers that really do this.
Domenico Dolce: Many put clothes together, they are stylists, they seek looks and trends. This is a visual world, one of communication, but clothes must be worn, lived in. We look for the right proportions and we are obsessed with the cut.
SG: Sure, you are attracted by the look, but then if you go in our store and try our clothes, they just fit. Many are surprised by our commercial success, but it’s mainly to be attributed to our fit.
DD: This wasn’t considered interesting, but now it’s coming back, because you don’t live on looks alone. Beautiful clothes are revolutionary now. Today, you are surprised if you see beautiful clothes. I’m a Catholic, I usually go to mass early in the morning and I see these old people in their 70s, they have no idea what sportswear or active is; they are wearing coats, furs and hats from the ’50s or ’60s and it’s a strong message of elegance.
SG: (laughs) I ask him if he goes to mass to design collections…
DD: It’s classic elegance. Elegance is always beautiful, contemporary and timeless. It doesn’t have to be about the latest trend, or from a signature brand. It’s forever. Recently, it’s all “trusciume” (in Sicilian, cheap, trashy) – there’s no quality, these fast-fashion companies churning out looks. People thought it was cool, but it’s cheap. … Elegance is intellectual; it’s about good taste, the cut, proportions, quality, how you carry yourself.
Luisa Zargani is the Milan Bureau Chief for Women’s Wear Daily, the one-hundred-year-old fashion media company often referred to as ‘the fashion bible’.