Seemingly yesterday, this Italian mega brand had a tremendous amount of mainstream appeal, backed by celebrities like Madonna in the ‘90s for its sultry take on fashion and sensuality. But since 2009, the most famous design duo in the world has been reinventing Dolce & Gabbana as a patrimonial brand using the classic codes of Italy with full-fledged nods to history, art, and tradition. Upon meeting the designers in Dubai ahead of a private dinner, they asked me where I came from. I responded, “Tunisia, the land of Azzedine Alaia.” They replied that they look up to this fashion genius. One thought came to mind: if Alaïa did the same job taking inspiration from Tunisia as Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana do from their country, perhaps we would attract more tourists—but that’s another story altogether.
We sat down for a laid-back interview on their legacy, the story behind their evolving Sicilian aesthetic, and how Karl Lagerfeld is the new Benjamin Button.
ON THEIR LEGACY AS FASHION DESIGNERS
For people like you who work on the imagining and representation of a culture, what does the Orient evoke for you?
Domenico Dolce (DD): The Orient is one thing, and Dubai is another altogether. Dubai is a metropolis. Today, Europe is seen as the famed grandmother, the oldie, whereas here everything is new. During the Italian renaissance, architects built Florence, Naples, and Palermo; they invented the baroque. Here, we are witnessing history: the birth of a new city.
Stefano Gabbana (SG): In 300 years, the Emirates will mark the sign of the times. You see, Sicily is not so far from Arab culture. There are so many things that link us together in food, in taste, in decorum—the feeling between Arabs and Sicilians is actually pretty close. [Between the years 831-1072, Sicily was actually an Islamic state referred to as “The Emirate of Sicily,” whose capital was Palermo.]
And what about the women of both cultures?
SG: Both represent femininity.
DD: There’s a comparison to be made between the south Italian culture, North African culture, and the culture here—the woman as the maternal mother, the center of the family.
It seems like there are some designers who love women and others who love fashion…
SG: Well, you have some who love women and some who hate them (laughs)
Your career is based on beautifying the female figure. Do you think of yourselves as “Pygmalions?” As artists?
SG: Artists? No. We are couturiers.
DD: Couturiers at the service of women.
SG: Our work is artistic in a sense that it has to do with fantasy, but for us, “art” is eternal. Fashion, by definition, is ephemeral. It might be a sign of times, but it is never eternal.
Yet in many of your previous interviews, you seem preoccupied by the legacy of Dolce & Gabbana. You even mentioned as a joke that when you will die, Karl Lagerfeld will come to replace you at the helm.
DD: For sure! He is immortal (laughs). His spirit still flies over Dubai [Lagerfeld hosted Chanel’s 2015 Cruise show in Dubai two weeks before our interview]. He is a superhero; he has the gift of transformation. Soon he will become a baby all over again…
Like Benjamin Button! And there’s actually a comparison to be made between being a designer and Benjamin Button: each new season you need to be fresher, to be newer. How do you continue to reinvent yourselves with new codes of femininity that tend to be about a woman who is more masculine, more in charge, more mobile? Maybe this woman doesn’t want to be as sensual as you would necessarily want her to be…
DD: Women don’t want to be sensual until they try a corset on, but then when they see themselves in the mirror they say, “Well…” (laughs). There is nothing more beautiful than the feminine world—it’s much more interesting than the masculine world as it holds so many mysteries. Furs, vanity, make-up, jewelry, lingerie, corsets…we are fascinated by these codes and they are still so incredibly strong today—they make womanhood unique.