Over the phone from Milan, passion still crackles in Stefano Gabbana's voice nearly 30 years after he and Domenico Dolce started their design partnership and more than a decade after they ended their romantic one.
Their relationship status isn't all that has evolved. When Dolce&Gabbana launched in 1985, the brand became almost instantly synonymous with leopard print and lace, corsets and rosaries, fantasy and fetish. Dolce&Gabbana drew from powerful, curvy muses such as Sophia Loren and attracted a new, modern one — Madonna.
Today the brand remains unrepentantly sensual and exuberantly Italian. But the years have sharpened the sophistication and mellowed the flash.
The spring 2014 women's ready-to-wear collection mined the Greco influences on their beloved Sicily, evinced by a high-neck mini-dress dappled with delicate appliques of almond tree blossoms and belted with oversize gold coins. Their men's collection for fall 2014 referenced the Norman invasion of Sicily in the 11th century, evoking HBO's "Game of Thrones."
Two years ago, Dolce and Gabbana folded their more affordable line, D&G, into the main Dolce&Gabbana line, freeing resources to introduce an exclusive couture collection, Alta Moda.
Retail is expanding globally, even as Dolce and Gabbana appeal a tax-evasion conviction in Italy. A Chicago store is opening on Oak Street in early March.
Celebrities, meantime, wear their approval of the brand. In January, Jennifer Connelly appeared on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" in a black lace dress; Matthew McConaughey and Julia Roberts chose Dolce&Gabbana for the Golden Globes. Sarah Jessica Parker swung the "Agata" handbag at the Museum of Modern Art. Rachel McAdams shrugged on a menswear-inspired coat at the Sundance Film Festival.
Three weeks before their Feb. 23 fall runway show, Stefano Gabbana, 51, stepped away to reflect on the loves of his life's work. Domenico Dolce, 55, did not, because, he said via email, "I am shyer than he is."
Gabbana shared other differences — mostly complementary, sometimes complicated — during our phone conversation. This is an edited transcript.
Q: Domenico is from Palermo, but you are from Milan. Why is Sicily so influential in your collections?
A: I spent three months in Sicily after school. I fell in love with the people, the mood, the food, everything about it. It's an Italian region full of history — the Norman story, Spanish, Arab, North African and French.
When Domenico and I met, we were assistants for the designer Giorgio Correggiari. When we started Dolce&Gabbana, I said, "I love Sicily and you are Sicilian." The crochet, the Visconti movies ("La Terra Trema," "The Leopard") a lot of famous things are from Sicily. I convinced him to start to work around this mood.
People from the north of Italy are attracted to the south, and vice versa. Domenico came to Milan because he wanted the modern way, the future. He loves the new. I do too. But when something is too new, I have a kind of fear. I need the past with the new. The Dolce&Gabbana style is a mix from these two ideas.
Q: Why did you shut down D&G to launch Alta Moda?
A: We thought, four years ago, there's not a future for D&G, because there are a lot of collections (in that tier). Italian manufacturing is not competitive with this. We said, listen, we need to concentrate Dolce&Gabbana and maybe it's better if we make something more luxury.
Q: Who is the Dolce woman?
A: It's a Mediterranean woman, but not Mediterranean because she comes from here. It's an attitude. We like a woman with a child, children, with husband, but with a job, working. We took inspiration in the beginning from Anna Magnani, the famous actor from the '40s and '50s. After, we take inspiration from Sophia Loren, then Isabella Rossellini, Monica Bellucci, Madonna. Now we don't have one woman, but this kind of woman is more or less the same. A power woman, with joy for life. We are like this. We work a lot, but we have a sense of family, we love animals, dogs, we love food and color and history.
Q: How does Alta Moda differ?
A: There is a woman, she needs, she wants, she loves and she has the possibility to have something unique. We had an Alta Moda show one week ago, and we showed a simple dress in a wool crepe stretch in baby blue. A lot of customers want to buy it. But there's just one, for the first customer. The others need to choose another color, because we don't make two the same.
Q: Your romantic partnership ended in 2003? Was that difficult for your working partnership?
A: In the first year, yes, because we didn't change anything in the office. But I believe in him and he believes in me. It's another style of love. The love story continues, but it's different. Nobody knew for three years because we didn't give the sense of the change. After three years, someone discovered and put it in the newspaper. But for us it was an old story. We finished (the romance) in 2001 or 2000. ... But Dolce&Gabbana, it's like a child for us. Why would we put this in the garbage, on the floor? It's not our sense of life.
Q: Do you think the change influenced your collection?
A: Maybe it's more sophisticated now because he knows about me, everything. And I know everything about him. I think we are a good example; when we break the love story, no one says, "This is mine!" We don't fight about anything. I have a respect for him, I know the boyfriends, and the same for me. It's very good. I'm lucky, first of all, because I met him, and I cannot make anything for Dolce&Gabbana if I didn't meet him. And I'm lucky because the love story is finished, but it's not finished, it's just changed.
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