The Sicilian design duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have parlayed a dreamy Mediterranean aesthetic into a billion-dollar global brand.
They 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”, with a runway debut in 1985 at Milan Fashion Week.
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. 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.
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. In late 2018, the duo came under media fire for when the brand posted a marketing campaign featuring an Italian model eating Italian food with chopsticks, that was deemed derogatory to Chinese culture. Following the outrage, Gabbana was ousted online for a racist feud between him and another Instagram user. With Chinese consumers making up a sizeable chunk of the luxury market, the brand lost a large part of its Asian-Pacific market due to boycotts. By November, the brand cancelled its Shanghai fashion show. the first quarter of 2019, social media engagement for the brand fell by 98 percent compared to the same time last year. In 2019, the brand also announced it would extend its style sizes to 14-18, as of its pre-fall 2019 collection. Following its international faux pas that same year, the brand staged it’s Alta Moda fashion show in the Temple of Concordia, a UNESCO World Heritage site turned into its own ancient Greece-inspired runway.
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.