From the archive: Dolce & Gabbana

As they join London Collections: Men

Dolce & Gabbana are making fashion history by joining the London Collections: Men shows next week – and they’re throwing a typically fashionable soirée to celebrate. In 2010, ELLE Editor-in-Chief Lorraine Candy had an exclusive private audience with the boys. Here’s what they had to say…

In 1985, there were two aspiring designers, and there was a black bra. The rest, as they say, is fashion history. ELLE’s Lorraine Candy interviews Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. Girl meets boys!

There is leopard print and then there is Dolce & Gabbana leopard print. In a large anonymous building in a peaceful urban street in Milan, there are walls and walls of leopard print. Carpets and curtains of leopard print. The most leopard print I have ever seen in one place. There is also deep, red velvet on chairs and sofas, huge sparkly chandeliers and, on the floor, a giant colourful patchwork rug made up of small squares of fabric. This is material from nearly all of Dolce & Gabbana’s runway collections of the past 25 years – pieces of fashion history. I’m afraid to tread on all those memories. But perhaps most significant of all is a simple black bra, which hangs in a gilt frame among the amazing works of art. The room may be dominated by a 6ft Julian Schnabel painting, but it is the bra that catches my eye. Later, as I’m interviewing Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce, I ask them: what is the sexiest thing a woman can wear? ‘A black bra,’ they say in unison. And if you know anything about fashion (and you must or you wouldn’t be reading this), you will know that the simple black bra has been the one piece that has underpinned nearly every collection Dolce & Gabbana has ever done. It is, more often than not, their starting point, so I’m reassured it has been respectfully given pride of place on the wall of a room unlike any other. In my black jacket, black capri pants and white silk shirt (white bra), I feel terribly underdressed as I sit on the velvet sofa. Terribly British. Stefano Gabbana says that the first thing he notices about a woman is her hands and feet. ‘Is obsession with me,’ he adds, in his heavily accented English. Now I’m worried about my flat Louboutins and the small daisy tattoo on my left foot: a half-hearted rebellion that is so out of place in a world where nothing is half-hearted. I want to go back to my hotel, throw my shoes out of the window and slip into a skin-tight corset dress. I want to put my hair up in a messy just-got-out-of-bed chignon and grab a red lipstick. I want to wear the highest heels, find a slim black cigarette holder and reappear in front of ‘the boys’, as they are known, with Monica Bellucci’s attitude. This is not possible. Not just because there’s no time (an audience with Dolce and Gabbana takes months to organise), but also because I am the opposite shape to Monica. ‘Ah, but all women are sensual. We love them all,’ says Stefano, smiling. ‘Is about attitude.’ Domenico looks at me in his more serious way, and says quietly, ‘I like what you wear: masculine with feminine. Is stylish.’ If Domenico Dolce, arguably the best womenswear tailor in the world, tells you this, you believe it. He is, after all, the man who ripped a coat apart and sewed it back together again on Kylie Minogue in the changing room of their London store not long ago. Along with Stefano, he has dressed the world’s most famous female celebrities and models. From Madonna to Scarlett, from Linda to Gisele, Dolce and Gabbana have shaped the style of a generation of women. They invented the corset dress, they brought us sharply feminine suits with white shirts that automatically undid at your cleavage, they gave us statement coats and feminine floral prints. They took women’s curves and celebrated them. To wear Dolce & Gabbana was to discover your inner Italian – and they proved every woman has one. It’s been an amazing journey from the small Milanese office they started in 1985 with just 2m lire (under £1,000) to their name, living on ‘milk and pasta’: the days when they would phone everyone themselves to make sure they attended the show. ‘Sometimes, I think those were my happiest times,’ says Stefano. ‘The beginning: when you are lighter; when you have less.’ REWIND: A FASHION MOMENT The words Sicilian, Sartorial and Sensual are printed large and taped on a wall above rails of the most exquisitely made clothes. It’s the day before the Dolce & Gabbana a/w 2010 runway show in February. The model Mariacarla Boscono is parading in front of the boys and show stylist Tabitha Simmons. ‘She is such a funny girl, always happy,’ says Stefano. The designers had summoned me. It is rare to see a collection before it has been finally edited. Rarer still to be talked through it personally. It would be fair to say I am giddy with excitement. The duo are, as we know, former lovers, but now their relationship is brotherly – although they tell me the longest they have been apart in 28 years is a weekend (‘And even then I phone ’im,’ says Stefano). Stefano is outgoing, quick to laugh and with a playful sense of humour (a Scorpio, should you care about such things). Domenico (a Leo) is naturally shy. He is more studious, but just as likeable. Both are handsome, charismatic in a subtle way. At the studio, the atmosphere is light-hearted, but everything is being taken seriously and organised efficiently. Things run on time. In fact, Dolce and Gabbana are never more than a few minutes late for any of our meetings – and even then, an assistant phones to apologise. This is significant. In my fashion life, I have waited ages for other famous designers. Once, I read a whole novel as the hours ticked by. ‘It is such a professional atmosphere,’ says Simmons, who has worked with them for five years. ‘You work, you have an hour for lunch, you finish at a civilised hour. It isn’t like that everywhere – many designers work through the night and change everything at the last minute, but the boys are so decisive. There is no grey. Domenico is like a computer – he remembers every piece of clothing he’s created. It’s like he barcodes them in his mind. Stefano is more playful – as professional, but he likes to make people laugh, to have fun.’ READY FOR THE CLOSE-UP The next day, in the front row, a strange thing happens. People are crying. The love song Come What May, sung by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge!, plays as an army of 69 of the world’s most beautiful models stride elegantly down the catwalk in tailored jackets, knitted dresses, polka-dot blouses, satin knickers and flashes of leopard print for the show finale. As the show closes, a graceful and moving film of the white-coated men and women who work in the designers’ atelier plays in black and white, showing the catwalk pieces being sewn together. It’s like being on a movie set as they film the last poignant scene of an Italian love story. The show is the best of Dolce & Gabbana: everything we have ever loved is reinvented with a small twist. It is a modern retrospective that quite literally takes everyone’s breath away. Whispers rustle through the emotional fashion crowd: ‘They must be in love again.’ TWEET ME THIS Three months after the show, which has received rave reviews, on the day before I’m due to do the interview, Italian airports are being closed by volcanic ash. When I tweet this, Stefano tweets me back: ‘Milano is open.’ The modern world has been embraced by this company, which last year had an estimated turnover of £875m and employs over 3,600 people. The runway show was live-streamed and they were among the first to welcome bloggers. Stefano and his iPhone are inseparable, he has almost 29,000 Twitter followers and Twitpics daily. (Today, the subject is ducks. ‘Docks? Dooks? How you say it?’ he asks in the middle of our interview, as he breaks off to take a call about the birds. ‘Another one just land in my pond.’) So, I ask, are they in love again? ‘Nooo. We love the clothes, the woman,’ says Domenico. Stefano adds, ‘We work with romance. Today, you need emotion when you buy something, you have to love it. Like with food, movies, everything. That is what we tried to create. The woman, maybe the mother, was the inspiration for this collection. We looked at our heritage, our beginning, all the elements of our history and made them modern.’ Indeed, we can thank them for bringing the Sicilian siren into our wardrobes. Leopard print aside, Dolce & Gabbana is known for making the working woman sensual: my personal favourite being their sharp yet flirtatious pinstripe suits that still hang alongside the sex-bomb dresses in their 304 shops worldwide. The pair were together for 18 years; now Domenico, 51, is in a relationship and Stefano, 47, is ‘single lady’, as Domenico says. They both live alone. Their apartments are one above the other in the building opposite this one. ‘Mine is like this,’ says Stefano, gesturing around the colourful room in which we sit. ‘Mine,’ says Domenico, in many ways his design partner’s opposite in personality, ‘is more minimal.’ It is difficult to imagine how any boyfriend would cope with a partner whose ex-lover is this dominant in his life, but I sense the relaxed and nurturing nature of Stefano would make it easier. Stefano explains, ‘I have had a recent relationship where probably there was jealousy of him. But it is not right to compare anyone to Domenico. What we have is for the rest of our lives. We don’t need to talk, just a look and we know. I understand him and he understands me. This is rare. He is my brother.’ Who has the final say, I ask, when a decision has to be made. ‘It is a good balance,’ says Domenico, tactfully. Stefano adds, ‘Yes, we do fight sometimes – if we have different ideas, different moods.’ How have each of you changed, I ask? Domenico says, ‘’Im? He is much better now, like a good wine – more quiet, more available. With more experience, he has grown up. When we start together, he was very dangerous.’ Stefano raises an eyebrow. ‘He is the same,’ he says, with excellent comic timing. Domenico is a workaholic. Always thinking about the clothing collections (they design 16 a year, including menswear), always sketching. Relaxation is not his natural state, although he seems very calm today. ‘No,’ he says, leaning towards me. ‘I am very nervous – like a volcano, you know? It’s like a fire inside.’ Stefano nods in agreement. Stefano says the gym (‘I have a tea and a coffee first – then I burn the fat much better in the gym!’) and holidays are how he switches off. Domenico doesn’t switch off at all. ‘My mind is never stopping. I think, if you stop, you die. Maybe it is a problem for me – I have to talk to myself and say, “Please stop. Switch off”,’ he explains. ‘He is impossible,’ sighs Stefano. They were once celebrated party boys, entertaining on their yacht and in Milanese nightclubs; now they lead a more sedate life. Family is important. I had read that Domenico had thought of adopting, such was their love of children. ‘I love the idea but, in Italy, it is impossible for gay people to adopt. We have nephews and nieces; we spoil them,’ he says. ‘Sunday is our family day.’ Simmons tells me a touching story. ‘The most precious thing anyone has given me,’ she says, ‘is the bracelet Stefano made for me. He made it from small pictures of my two sons (aged six and four) as a surprise. I wear it every day.’ Stefano is checking his phone again: his mother has called. ‘Yesterday, I forget it is Mother’s Day,’ he says, shaking his head. ‘I call her as usual at 8pm, and she say to me after 15 minutes that today is Mother’s Day. F***, I think, I don’t remember this thing. But you know what she says? She tells me, “For you, every day is Mother’s Day.” She is so sweet.’ Their close family lives near them in Milan and I ask if they are all dressed for free. They laugh. ‘No,’ says Stefano. ‘We have big families. Can you imagine if it was all free? It would be out of control. Even I only get a discount, not free. This is a business – you need this attitude.’ The designers approve everything that bears their name, from lipsticks to the sunglasses they designed earlier this year with Madonna. Their intense relationship has made them a fortune, but I don’t believe this is what drives them. The yacht, the two houses in Portofino, and Domenico’s new apartment in New York, all the art and trips aren’t as important as the work. ‘When we started this job, it wasn’t to be able to say, “Look – I am rich; look at the life I lead.” It wasn’t that mentality,’ says Stefano. ‘I drive around on my scooter in Milan alone – we don’t have bodyguards or anything like that. I am a fashion designer, not a celebrity, and although I get stopped for autographs and the like, I don’t think I am famous.’ So, as we’re talking fame, it’s time to ask the M question. If you think of Dolce & Gabbana, you think of Madonna. So, what is she like, I ask. Tell me all. Infuriatingly, they are rather discreet about their celebrity associations. Stefano recalls: ‘So we dressed her for her performance at the Brixton Academy. She’d called the press office the day before and asked us to do this, so we met her in our London shop and that was the start of our relationship. It is a proper friendship – we went on holiday together and we talk on the phone. Madonna is our first love. You never forget your first love.’ Is she jealous of all your other loves? Isabella Rossellini? The supermodels? The new girls? ‘Nooo, she is a friend. All the people we are with are friends, genuine friends. We work well with her because she likes the same things as us. We understand each other.’ ‘She is very tiny,’ adds Domenico.

And, I say, she loves a black bra.

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