The Dolce & Gabbana Story – Design, Drama & Scandals
Dolce & Gabbana is one of the biggest brand names in fashion. Their brand has been loved by celebrities and fashionistas alike, and is currently estimated to be worth an impressive $4 billion. The brand is known for it’s sexy and romantic designs, Italian designer duo and for their scandalous campaigns and beliefs. However, whether you love or hate Dolce and Gabbana, they are successful and they are here to stay, as this year they celebrate thirty years in the business.
Dolce was born in Polizzi Generosa, Sicily, on August 13, 1958. Gabbana was born four years later in Milan, on November 14, 1962. Dolce is the son of a tailor, and so has always grown up in fashion. He has always said that because of his father’s trade, fashion became Dolce’s medium of self expression. He had a desire to work in the fashion industry form a very young age, and worked in his family’s clothing factory when he was growing up. Gabbana does not have such a romantic past with fashion. Gabbana never thought about fashion as a child, and only became interested in fashion at the age of 15- but he was interested for his own wardrobe, rather than for business. Whilst Dolce studied fashion and moved to Milan to work in a design studio, Gabbana studied graphic design and worked in advertising for a short time before realizing that his passion was fashion.
Eventually, Dolce and Gabbana met in 1980. They were both assistants at an atelier in Milan. The couple undertook freelance designing together for other companies, and then they embarked upon their official partnership in 1982. However, it was not an overnight success. They worked extremely hard, and did everything they could to draw attention to their designs and their brand. Dolce spoke to Susannah Frankel of the Guardian, remembering what it was like in the old days: “I remember our first show,we did it in a small apartment in Milan. We organized it ourselves, me and Stefano, without PR, [with] nothing. My sister and my brother were on the door.” The pair put on shows wherever they could, whenever they could- not waiting for an opportunity to present itself, but creating those opportunities themselves. They wanted to create a buzz around their name, and they certainly did- as they gained a spot in Milan’s 1984 fashion week, and began on their route to international success.
Dolce and Gabbana are known for their romantic, Mediterranean styles. It is no surprise then that the inspiration for their pieces comes from Sicily and Sicilian culture. In particular, Dolce and Gabbana take inspiration from Italian film, such as the 1963 film The Leopard by Luchino Visconti. “When we design it’s like a movie. We think of a story and we design the clothes to go with it”– Dominico Dolce.
They admire sensual, romantic designs that create a striking, beautiful and confident woman with the looks and attitude of Sophia Loren and Stefania Sandrelli, but who also possesses the fear of God and total devotion to family. Dolce and Gabbana layer corsets, lace, veils and lingerie to build these bold women with ample bodies and provocative looks- the designers say that they are more concerned with creating flattering and quality clothing than igniting new tends, and they would not mind if the only item they ever contributed to fashion history was a black bra. Even when the fashion world was working with power suits and executive pieces for women, Dolce and Gabbana used lace, tulle and angora to display their sensual, Sicilian woman.
Thirty years is an incredible milestone for any company. What is perhaps more impressive is that the couple have continued to work together to lead the fashion world, even after their romantic relationship of 19 years ended. Dolce and Gabbana spoke to CNN about reaching this milestone with their brand, and whether they could ever have imagined having ‘this level of success’.
Domenico Dolce: No… When I started this job, we had a dream. We dreamed, but the dream was very complicated because (when you) dream, you don’t know the future. We work every day, and at the end of the day, we believe in this job, and we believe in this work.
Stefano Gabbana: We didn’t start this job to make money… We started this job because we love it. It’s our life.
The Dramas and the Scandals
In the February of 2005 Dolce and Gabbana announced that they had split in their personal relationship. The couple who had been together for 19 years had moved into separate apartments, although they did both still live in the same apartment block in Milan. They said that the split would not affect their label, and that their separation was friendly. They continue to work together, vacation together, and say that they have a very strong love that ties them to each other.
Consumer groups complained in February 2007 about a Dolce and Gabbana advertisement. The advertisement in Spain showed a man holding a woman to the ground by her wrists, with a group of men looking on. Dolce and Gabbana pulled the advertisement, as the Spanish Labour and Social Affairs Ministry deemed the campaign as illegal and humiliating to women, stating that the woman’s body position had no relation to the products being sold. The advertisement was banned from Italian publications, and was called glorification of gang rape, and declared one of the most controversial advertisements in fashion history.
The Photo Ban:
On January 5th 2012, Apple Daily reported that only Hong Kong citizens had been banned from taking photos of Dolce and Gabbana window displays in their Hong Kong stores. This report stirred anti-Mainland Chinese sentiment, sparking protests spanning several days and gaining international news coverage. It was speculated that the reason that Dolce and Gabbana had imposed a photo ban may have been that a wealthy Chinese government official was shopping, and feared photographs of them in store might circulate and fuel corruption allegations and investigations into their wealth- such was the case of Zhou Jiugeng, an official whose lifestyle was identified by Chinese citizens using internet photographs. Dolce and Gabbana issued a formal apology to Hong Kong citizens on 18th January 2012 from the Milan headquarters.
The Tax Evasion
Despite being worth billions, Dolce and Gabbana have still been evading tax. In May 2009, the Italian government charged Dolce and Gabbana with tax evasion for having moved assets of 249 million euros to Luxembourg during the 2004-2006 period. Then, on the 19th June 2013, the pair was found guilty of failing to declare 1 billion euros of incomes to authorities after moving their brand to Gado, a Luxembourg-based holding company. Both Dolce and Gabbana were sentenced to one year and eight months in jail. However, they were very quick to file a 90 page appeal, and so did not face any jail time. Then, on April 30th 2014, a three judge panel overruled the appeal and decided to uphold the initial sentence. Still, they were not imprisoned, as the initial sentence was under the two year minimum. Finally, after five long years of back and forth, on October 24th 2014, both Dolce and Gabbana were found innocent of tax evasion by the Italian Court of Justice.
Possibly the biggest Dolce and Gabbana scandal is also the most recent. On March 16th, 2015, Dolce and Gabbana were quoted in the Italian magazine Panorama as saying: “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one.” They went on to continue to criticize both in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy “No chemical offspring and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.”
This was a big shock to their fans and followers, as the comments were made by two gay men in an industry often seen as gay-friendly. As this was such a shock, the reaction to their views was huge. Many people turned to social media to voice their opposition to what Dolce and Gabbana had said, and they used the hashtag #BoycottDolceGabbana, which gained over 30,000 tweets in only five days. Many celebrities also expressed their anger at what Dolce and Gabbana were saying, including Victoria Beckham, Ricky Martin, Courtney Love, Elton John and even Madonna. Courtney Love said that she would “burn all of her Dolce and Gabbana clothing”, Elton John said “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as ‘synthetic’. And shame on you for wagging your judgemental little fingers at IVF – a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people, both straight and gay, to fulfill their dream of having children.” and Madonna, who has had a part in creating their success after befriending the pair many years ago, took to Instagram to say “All babies contain a soul however they come to this earth and their families. There is nothing synthetic about a soul!! So how can we dismiss IVF and surrogacy? Every soul comes to us to teach us a lesson. God has his hand in everything even technology! We are arrogant to think Man does anything on his own. As above so below! Think before you speak.”
The backlash did not stop there. Over 10,000 people signed an online petition calling for Macy’s and Debenhams to stop stocking the brand in their department stores, and protesters gathered outside Dolce and Gabbana’s flagship London store calling for an international boycott of the luxury brand. However, these attempts were criticized by Dolce and Gabbana as being medieval, and they called for fans to use the hashtag #BoycottEltonJohn- however, this only gained 1,500 tweets. Eventually, whilst being interviewed by CNN, Dolce was asked whether he supported having children through IVF. Dolce replied with a different stance on the matter, saying: “Yeah, I don’t have anything bad, because the beauty of the world is freedom…We love gay couple. We are gay. We love gay couple. We love gay adoption. We love everything. It’s just an express of my private point of view.”
So, what does the future hold for Dolce and Gabbana? Will they continue to work for another thirty years? Will they be just as successful in the future? How many more scandals can they create? Who knows. Speaking to CNN, Dolce muses on what the future has in store.
“We don’t know. Everything is possible because, in one second, everything can change. We want to work on the label, we want to grow, we want to have the Alta Moda [Dolce & Gabbana’s couture line]. We want to grow, not just for money, but because we think it’s possible for us to have more ambition. Ambition to grow in a nice way.”