The Sicilian design duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have parlayed a dreamy Mediterranean aesthetic into a billion dollar global brand.
The duo first met when Dolce called the fashion house that Gabbana worked for at the time. Gabbana became a mentor of sorts to Dolce, and when Gabbana returned from his mandatory military tour, the two launched a design consultancy together and eventually started ‘Dolce and Gabbana’.
Their runway debut came in 1985 at Milan Fashion Week, where they were referred to as ‘the boys’ for their youth and exuberance. They showed a ‘Sicilian widow’ look, heavy on black lace.
Slowly, the pair launched other product lines, including knitwear and accessories, and gained notoriety particularly for their sensual dresses and menswear, which won them the 1991 Woolmark Prize. In the early 1990s, pop star Madonna selected them as her costume designers for her Girlie world tour, and wore one of their jewel-encrusted corsets to the Cannes Film Festival. Throughout the ‘90s, the duo were famed for their overtly feminine, colourful garments, which stood in stark contrast to the wave of minimalism that was sweeping across fashion at the time.
Some of their design signatures and trademarks include the reinterpretation of intimate garments as outerwear, animal prints and taking inspiration from ‘real women’ — for several seasons’ campaigns and runway shows, the pair have cast ordinary men and women, typically from their native Italy. They have designed for everyone from AC Milan to Motorola and have also co-authored a dozen or so books detailing their collections and legacy.
The company has not been without controversy, however. In June 2013, Dolce and Gabbana were charged and convicted of tax evasion, however the duo successfully appealed to overturn their conviction and were pronounced innocent by the Italian Supreme Court of Justice in October 2014. “We have always been honest and we are extremely proud of this recognition by the Italian Court of Justice. Viva l’Italia,” said the pair in a statement at the time.
Although their personal relationship ended in 2005, as The New Yorker puts it, “Gabbana is the eyes for Dolce’s hands,”and they have continued to work together on an enduring empire, crafted from scratch, by their love of their homeland and the scope of their romantic imagination.