It’s the day after Dolce & Gabbana’s spring 2004 women’s collection, and the company’s palazzo at Via San Damiano, in the heart of Milan, is silent. This almost unsettling quietness is not something that you associate with Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana—designers who love nothing more than to crank up the volume in everything they do. The nineteenth-century palace, with its walls of warm-colored Tuscan clay, functions as the nerve center for this extraordinary design team. If you’ve ever visited their store on Madison Avenue, the décor would be entirely familiar. The interior walls are scarlet, punctuated by tall cacti, and there are gorgeously ornate Baroque gilt furnishings, pictures of the Madonna (as in the pop, not religious, icon), Murano-glass chandeliers, paintings by Julian Schnabel and Andy Warhol, and zebra skins everywhere. It’s as if an interior decorator had channeled the spirit of Diana Vreeland and then consumed a copious amount of acid while executing her vision. It’s also, of course, a look that’s meant to be taken with a knowing wink.
Domenico and Stefano always hold their shows on the palazzo grounds, erecting a white tent and then creating a scene inside that complements the collection. In the past, that might have been an arid, tree-trunk-filled landscape that would have appealed to Georgia O’Keeffe, or a particularly hot and heavy night at Area circa 1986, or—most memorably—a Sicilian street market, replete with musclebound male models manning the fruit, vegetable, and fish stalls. By the time the show concluded—what with the delay in starting, and the blazing heat from the lighting rig—the usual struggle to reach the exit was made all the more urgent by the overwhelming olfactory assault.
This spring’s collection featured a souped-up, sassy mix of ruffled and tiered jersey dresses, lace and beaded lingerie, and some rather sweetly sexy suits in soft sherbet shades. And everything—everything—had been splashed with a near-hallucinogenic, kaleidoscopic mix of prints. Technicolor florals appeared and then blurred and merged with some very Roy Lichtenstein comic-strip prints, and then bloomed into florals once more. For the interior of the tent, Milan must have been stripped bare of its every peony, rose, and begonia. As the show progressed, the floral patterns on the clothes started merging with the flowers on and around the runway, causing serious sensory overload. A fashion editor sitting next to me sniffed that the choice of décor was so obvious.
But that, of course, is precisely the point. Dolce & Gabbana’s aesthetic is anything but coy: They will gleefully squeeze as much excess as is humanly possible into each showstopping piece—whether a jacket, dress, or suit.
“Dolce & Gabbana aren’t subtle,” says Andrew Bolton, associate curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. “They design blatant statements. Yet they also have a huge sense of irony and whimsy. The spirit of their work is Jean Paul Gaultier.”
The comparison is more than welcome: “Gaultier, ’eee’s a genius!” says Stefano, a huge fan of the French designer since the eighties.
Dolce & Gabbana’s way with a corset has become emblematic of their love of va-va-voom dressing—and their awesome tailoring talents. British fashion writer Lisa Armstrong once commented, “Many of the fluttery-as-a-breeze little chiffon nothings come with awesome internal structural engineering. If you wanted, you could see it all as an apt reading of current femininity.” Even their business suits achieve an erotic frisson, courtesy of Domenico’s tailoring skills.
“They truly have a monopoly on the shapely, form-fitting suit,” says Jacqui Lividini, senior vice-president of fashion and merchandising for Saks Fifth Avenue. “Wear one of those, and you always look and feel beautiful. It’s a touch of genius.”