Arguably two of the most iconic figures in fashion, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have been celebrating the glamour and culture of Italy through clothes since the ‘80s. Often thematic and tongue-in-cheek, their collections transcend trends and are defined by opulent embellishments, retro femininity and vibrant prints.
Dolce and Gabbana or colloquially “D&G”, has permeated its honour through an excessive and bold aesthetic. The elaborate and expansive brand of Dolce and Gabbana has now amassed a large reach over 30 years of its existence. Having found a strong identity in its years of history, being luxurious yet unconventional, this sentiment can still ring true today in the second decade of the 21st Century.
Amongst Italian Fashion, the norms and ideals confined to the industry during D&G’s uprising stood true to the brand, beauty, harmony and extravagance. Classical harmony was not the main aspect of D&G’s saga though, their notable references and citations emphasised the most crucial social and historical indices. Rhetoric, ironic and parodic elements of Dolce and Gabbana’s repertoire, are also important to note. An emphasis on the unnatural, per se, while maintaining “sexy” tailoring, is a succinct way to abbreviate Dolce and Gabbana’s aesthetic.
Founded by Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana in the 1980s, the Dolce and Gabbana joint venture was an unforeseen goldmine for the pair. Each were to both become industry icons, and influential fashion designers for many decades on end. Dolce and Gabbana is a two-way venture, with each co-founder of the brand upholding their own intriguing and illuminating history.
Domenico Dolce was born in Sicily in the late 1950’s. His father was a tailor and his mother was a seller of apparel and fabrics, thus he was born into a pre-existing world of fashion. Having studied fashion from a very young age, whilst maintaining a job at his family’s factory making clothes, Domenico would eventually move and work at a design studio in Milan. Remarkably, here he would meet Stefano Gabbana.
Stefano Gabbana was born in Milan but was by no means born with a birthright to fashion. Gabbana instead grew to be organically interested in fashion. Having long been a fan of Fiorucci and its angelic aesthetic, Gabbana, while studying graphic design and aspiring to work in advertising, had changed his career after just one small taste of the path ahead of him. Turning to fashion, Stefano landed an assistant job at an atelier within Milan.
After Dolce and Gabbana met, they realised they possessed a love for fashion and for one another. While they met in 1980, it wasn’t until 1982 that they established their partnership as a design team. 1982 saw the beginning of the two’s partnership and ultimately the building blocks for Dolce and Gabbana. A story of such grand success, however, does have humble beginnings.
Both being freelance designers for differing houses and companies during this time, they struggled to emerge and desperately attempted to display their work in any space possible.
Viewers can note the difficulty of freelance work in the 21st Century, this difficulty was amplified in the 1980s. Despite this, they managed to launch their design consultancy in Milan within this time period.
In 1983, after two years of working under Correggiari, the pair decided to finally work on their own and set about making a name out of their friendship and colleagueship. D&G was promptly launched. After having failed their chance at landing Milan Fashion Week of 1984, 1985 saw D&G’s debut to the world. Wealthy financiers and investors had backed up their line and had ultimately allowed them to gain exposure although they were working in a miniscule studio environment.
To much critical success and acclaim, Dolce and Gabbana launched their first collection of womenswear in the 1986. Titled ‘Real Women’, the collection was the first of many Italian cultural references, plucked and reformatted to create a modern fantasy ideal. Real Women was a reflection of Italian heritage, cinema and actual women’s aspirations. Henceforth, Dolce and Gabbana’s fashion lives and presence, exploded.
1987 heralded a knitwear line and 1988 saw their ready-to-wear work produced in Dolce’s family-owned factory atelier. 1989 had facilitated the opening of their first International boutique in Japan, as-well as establishment of their lingerie and beachwear lines. This period of vast growth did not stop here. This rapid progression and expansion did not limit their focus or take away from their collections either.
Autumn/Winter 1989 proved D&G held practical ability, as they made skirts out of complex soft folds, diagonal cutting and other imperceptible techniques. One invisible technique in-particular within one aspect of the collection, was a jacket being cut of the same material as the skirt below it, so as to not leave any space between the two pieces. This process of hidden doubling created a fluid and atypical luxurious garment to the narrative of “sexy” Italian tailoring.
The following year, Dolce and Gabbana’s first men’s collection was displayed. 1990 also saw a massive expansion to the company, as their product was exported to America and an adjacent showroom was opened. Moreover, their very-first womenswear boutique was opened in Milan. To round off a huge year for the duo, Genny Group’s Complice line needed designers to follow on from Versace, D&G were (luckily) each granted this role.
Always woven into collections and their processes, were historical paths formed not only by their own classic Italian journey from south to north, but too sources of costuming, poverty and Italian ancient/modern history. The film style of Rossellini asserted their Sicilian passion for certain works of art. Sophia Loren additionally gave way for their brand image to grow into an erotic, dominant and aggressive artform with feminine overtones.
The 1990s saw Dolce and Gabbana expand their brand and release an array of conflicting and confusing collections. One of the pieces from their very first few collections was labelled “The Sicilian Dress”. Happily, this dress is considered to be the most representative piece of clothing from this period of the brand and has been recognised as one of the 100 most important dresses ever designed.
1990’s Autumn/Winter collection is another standout example of D&G’s attention to tailoring as it also began to echo more of their advanced historical citations at play. Dolce and Gabbana essentially deconstructed the sentimentality of medieval coats, making them theatrical and bombastic. Velvet tapestries and brocade jackets were each made equally grotesque and oversized, with all historical mawkishness removed.
Autumn/Winter 1991 carried an even further, as bombastic edge, decorated and multicoloured garments were made of felt and silk. Again, there was no shortage of Italian references and citations. Imitating the garments of clergy members (namely monks, priests and bishops), Dolce and Gabbana signalled irony and idleness.
Ultimately, the first 5 years of the brand’s slowly developing habits, formed its overall aesthetic. Globally recognised, the duo cultivated a wholly unique artistic vision surrounding not only Sicilian fantasy, but an intriguing redefinition of manifesting other references from far afield. A foundation of their signature style was not rigid, rather, it was of an imagination, a different world to draw inspiration from. Ranging from the bourgeois to the working class, or baroque to modern work, the duo continued to exercise unique references throughout their lengthy career.
In 1993, a testament to Dolce and Gabbana’s newfound fame, was pop sensation Madonna noticing them. Commissioned to design 1,500 costumes for her World Tour, D&G took this opportunity, which lead to their processes of designing her entire ensemble as-well as a backdrop for her entire tour. This fame as-well as confidence foreshadowed even more growth for the brand.
The expansion of Dolce and Gabbana with the new diffusion line D&G, was perhaps an incredibly risqué move, for one reason. Advertising campaigns for this line featured gay, lesbian and interracial couples when launched. In this time period, this was deemed as uncertain but emerged as a great and worthy success.
Dolce and Gabbana’s male target audience was characterised as a detail-focused leader who could maintain his physical appearance without compromise. Free as an individual, he was to look good no matter the occasion. 1994’s ad campaigns heralded depictions of such a man, a luxury and well-dressed lifestyle. Alternative couples were a new face of the consumer market.
D&G’s general aesthetic in the form of its campaigns was ultimately cultivated within this period of time. Beyond a penchant for enhancing femininity, a newfound masculine style was adopted by the duo in 1994. ‘Sapphic chic’ was a masculine way in-which women would exemplify a new look. Encompassing girdles, corsets, D&G had revealed an even greater ability of theirs in experimenting within their progressing collections and negating minimalism.
Famed for their colourful clothing, their following collections would stand out like a sore thumb against minimalists like Helmut Lang. D&G had created a world of high lifestyle and bling. Their innovation, creativity and versatility continued throughout the 1990s. This was exercised through incessant mixing periodic or country dress, masculine or feminine dress or usage of differing fabrics or unique flairs of their heterogeneous Mediterranean world.
The remainder of the 90’s through to the early 2000’s, saw the duo famed for its stark contrast to minimalism in fashion that raged during this period. Femininity, colour and brazen, an impetuous consumer was to be delighted as ever by Dolce and Gabbana’s offerings. To top off the 1990s, the duo had published their first book, ’10 Years of Dolce and Gabbana’. The early 2000s would be epitomised by further fame and expansion for the business.
Nearly 30 years after their inception, Dolce and Gabbana’s first stand-alone store was opened in London in 2004. This year also had D&G developing uniforms for football team A.C Milan. Although having been romantically involved for such a long period of time, the early 2000’s granted Dolce and Gabbana the strength and independence to separate romantically while continuing to work together professionally.
Beyond their 90’s work, 2003 was potentially the year of Dolce and Gabbana’s most famous work. 2003 was colloquially the labelled ‘the year of bondage’, Dolce and Gabbana did not let themselves be an exception to this rule. Their collection strayed far away from their typical Italian references, and instead, referred to elements of ’70s ‘New Romantics’ and ’80s club culture. Since this one-off collection, D&G have remained true to their overarching self.
To this day, branding has been a pivotal element of Dolce and Gabbana’s total brand identity. Having established themselves as a luxurious, internationally recognisable house, D&G’s mass merchandising and expansive range of product is not their only key to success. Imperatively, the duo has maintained an advertising medium and style that suits the context of their luxurious history. Although ultimate pricing strategies and value-based market systems work in a business standpoint, the Public Relations side of Dolce and Gabbana has certainly seen better days in the past few years.
Having banned several publications of magazines and newspapers from their runway, supposedly D&G made these decisions due to bad reviews or an alleged lack of visibility for the brand within the publications. Dolce and Gabbana continue to ban ‘Vogue’, ‘The New York Times’ and other journals for “clearly not visible” representation of their clothes in their publications.
Dolce and Gabbana are one luxury fashion brand which is no stranger to contraversy and the ongoing media outrage and PR misstep. A brand can be forgiven one or two of these faux pas, but when they arrive almost like clockwork every couple of years you have to wonder who is guiding their media presence. Sometimes as an outsider you think there should be some parental guidance recommended.
So lets count backwards from the most recent PR calamity, with what happened following the release of a promotional campaign to herald the 2018 arrival of their big Shanghai Runway show. And again it was Stefano who put his designer foot in.
History of Controversy
As part of their “DG Loves China” marketing campaign for their major 2019 resort fashion show in Shanghai, D&G released a number of videos as advertisement. These videos included an Asian model struggling to eat traditional Italian food with chopsticks, which has been deemed culturally insensitive. Along with the stereotypical Chinese music in the background, the narrator asks; “Is it too huge for you?”, which just adds fuel to the disrespectful fire. The narrator even mispronounces the brand’s name, which can be interpreted as a way to mock the way Chinese people say Dolce & Gabbana.
Gabbana’s comments were made in response to criticism of their campaign titled ‘D&G Loves China.’ This advertisement depicted a Chinese model attempting to eat Italian food with a pair of chopsticks.
After receiving an initial wave of backlash for these videos, Stefano Gabbana shared his thoughts over Instagram Messaging, in which he said the following:
These messages were shared to Instagram account @dietprada, who then reposted them on their account and it’s fair to say that D&G was cancelled. Stefano Gabbana then went to his own account and claimed that his account was hacked, as well as the official D&G account claiming the same, stating “We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China.” while D&G sent a @dietprada a cease and desist letter in the background.
Once these messages were shared, the boycott began. Many Chinese celebrities and influencers called for a boycott on their social media, as well as not attending the fashion show altogether. Chinese online shopping sites pulled D&G fashion and fragrance from their platforms. Many models who were employed to walk for the show pulled out of the show. Within a day of the social media outbreak, China’s Cultural and Tourism Department (the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Shanghai) forced D&G to cancel the show, just hours before it was scheduled to take place.
It’s estimated that D&G’s estimated profits in 2018 were $1.3 billion euros, with around 30% of that coming from China. However, this controversy could’ve cost them $400 million euros, not even counting the loss from the failed fashion show itself and the loss of sales in the aftermath. It couldn’t be said better than Chinese—French model Estelle Chen, “You don’t love China, you love money. China is rich yes but China is rich in its values, its culture and its people and they won’t spend a penny on a brand that does not respect that.”
Responding on Instagram Stefano Gabbana made blatantly racist comments about Chinese people. These comments lead to near ruining a model’s career, plummeted their stocks and Chinese consumer market, as-well as forcing the house to suddenly cancel its Shanghai one-off runway.
Here’s a list of every other time D&G were in hot waters:
- There’s no doubt that this saying is used way too much in fashion marketing, but “Sex sells”. But there’s a limit, and D&G’s ads in Spain during 2007 referencing gang rape, clearly surpasses that limit. It depicted a male model holding a female model down by her wrists while a group of men watch on.
2. Dolce & Gabbana released a policy in 2012 to forbid Hong Kong residents from take photos outside or inside their flagship store on Canton Street in order to protect their “intellectual property”. Whilst not too surprising for a luxury brand wanting to keep their luxury status, the fact that foreign tourists and residents from mainland China were excluded from D&G’s photo ban caused public outrage. Public protests and a flood of images of the store hitting the internet caused a temporary closure of the store and D&G issued an apology.
3. “Blackamoor” earrings and prints were featured on D&G’s S/S 2013 collection. Referencing the “Mammy” archetype of the colonial era with cartoonish and politically incorrect depictions, D&G tried to defend themselves by saying that the imagery was inspired by Sicilian artwork.
4. Stefano Gabbana was also photographed with a friend Dell’Acqua in blackface at a ‘Disco Africa’ Halloween Party in 2013.
5. Dolce & Gabbana dropped criticism on same-sex parenting and In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) parenting from an interview Dolce & Gabbana did in 2015 with an Italian Magazine. “What I call children of chemistry don’t convince me, synthetic children.” “You are born and you have a father and a mother. At least it should be like that.” “We oppose gay adoptions.” Boycotted by many major celebrities, including Elton John, Courtney Love and Victoria Beckham.
6. In 2016, Dolce & Gabbana released a pair of multicolour embellished sandals for $2,395 as part of their S/S collection. Whilst aesthetically offensive, it was also named the “Slave Sandal”.
7. Who would be a perfect choice for D&G’s support in 2017? Melania Trump. Not only choosing to dress Melania in 2017 for her public and overseas appearances, Stefano Gabbana also become vocal in their support for Melania, even calling her a #DGWOMAN on their Instagram.In response in to the resulting social media boycott, D&G launched a fashion campaign titled #BoycottDolceGabbana, featuring white t-shirts with the hashtags and a large red heart. Even Stefano Gabbana wrote in the caption; “THANK YOU Haters!!!! Remember #boycottdolcegabbana please…
8. Once again, Stefano Gabbana simply couldn’t keep his opinion to himself when in 2018, he commented “è proprio brutta!!!” which from Italian translates to: “she’s really ugly!!!” under The Catwalk Italia’s Instagram post of Selena Gomez.
9. In addition, in an interview about D&G’s future in 2018 with and Italian daily newspaper, Stefano Gabbana said; “I don’t want a Japanese designer to design for Dolce & Gabbana”, without elaboration.
10. This recent Shanghai controversy, among others seem to have subsided but still serves as a reminder to Gabbana that his loose latenight Social posts still carry consequences.
D&G serves as a great example of an explosion of Italian ready-to-wear, that has been carried forward to this day. As role models, Dolce and Gabbana each continue to produce quality clothes, advertising campaigns and collections. Today, Dolce and Gabbana have maintained a global and distinguishable brand. Available in over 3000 retail outlets worldwide, their dominance is unequivocal. Through their creativity and versatile nature, their range of merchandise and lines have highlighted every element that contributes to D&G’s total success.
Dolce and Gabbana’s multifaceted world reflects upon Italian history, charm, class and the luxury-made renditions to various design elements and references. Their social stature excludes no consumer and aims to make any individual “sexy” as-well as unique.
Discover more of Dolce & Gabbana’s story in Fashion Industry Broadcast’s Masters of Fashion Vol. 34 “Italians”. Available via Amazon – worldwide!
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