“After one year,” Domenico says, “I realized that we were working together so much at the studio, we might as well go into partnership.”
Hastily deciding to call themselves Dolce & Gabbana—Domenico: “It made us sound like we were lawyers”—they presented their first collection, which was, recalls Stefano, “all long stretch dresses worn with big jackets with oversize shoulders, flat shoes, and black stockings. Basta! We’ve changed a lot, but the sense of humor, the opposites, the idea of glamour . . . they were all there.”
Their professional partnership was to develop into something deeper when they fell in love. It’s a relationship that still appears to be thriving. Their conversation forms one seamless narrative. They balance each other outÂ—Stefano the silver-tongued showman complementing Domenico’s studious demeanor.
(It’s also probably not too much of a stab in the dark to speculate that Domenico is the diplomat of the two; while Stefano doesn’t lack charm, it’s doubtful whether he has his partner’s patience.) And they bicker. As Domenico started to tell me about his love of seeing art shows in New York, Stefano interrupted, “Uggh . . . boring.”
It’s a testament to the affection that they’re held in that even their ex-employees remain immensely discreet and loyal, and won’t dish about them. (Or perhaps there’s more to their affinity for Sicily than meets the eye.) There’s certainly an incredibly passionate sense of family at the company: In the fashion world, where allegiances shift more quickly than a new consignment of Rochas at Barneys, there’s a close-knit core who have stayed with them for a long time.
If Giorgio Armani’s restrained, lean silhouette was the touchstone of Italian fashion at the time Domenico and Stefano came along, then the dynamic duo provided an alternate view of womanhood. Monica Bellucci walked the runway for them in their first show.
“I wasn’t getting that much work because I wasn’t that skinny,” she recalls. “But they made me feel that my curves were an asset.”
Sex soon became a major selling point of a Dolce & Gabbana collection.
“It’s an empowering kind of sexuality,” says Andrew Bolton. “There’s nothing fragile about it.”
It wasn’t surprising that the sex quotient soon had Hollywood stars beating a path to the designers’ door.
“We didn’t plan to have this connection with celebrities,” says Stefano. “When we design, we never think about actresses or rock stars. Perhaps our style is strong and good for those people. But we don’t ask them to wear it.”
One journalist tells me she remembers Dolce and Gabbana saying that they would never pay to have a celebrity wear their clothes. When I ask them about who they think is well dressed, they reel off a list of . . . men! Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Colin Farrell. They are far less enamored of today’s screen goddesses. “It’s one day Versace, one day Gucci, one day Dolce & Gabbana,” complains Stefano. “It doesn’t come down to style, it comes down to business. Actresses take a lot of money from the labels, and that’s why they wear their clothes.” They agree that no one beats Elizabeth Taylor. Or Sophia Loren. Or Madonna at her height: “But not now,” says Stefano.
Perhaps their new book, Hollywood, a lavish affair that’s as much their personal scrapbook of the great and the good who have worn their clothes as it is a glossy coffee-table tome, is best read as a sign of their hard-won independence.
“I never pay $1 for these people to be in the book, honestly,” says Domenico.
“So this book is for me and Stefano, and it’s to recognize all of the stars who have worn our clothes.”
“It’s like when Sophia Loren was at the Oscars,” says Stefano, laughing, “and she said, ‘Thank you, Hollywood. Thank you, America.’ Well, now it’s our turn.”