Pioneers

Dolce&Gabbana, free and independent since 1985

di Giulia Crivelli


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4' di lettura

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have been independent since they founded the brand that bears their surnames 34 years ago. The difference between today and 1985 is that the brand and the business now stand on solid foundations while the two designers and entrepreneurs are infinitely more aware of their own creative and organisational talents and abilities. Added to this is the sense of responsibility for the 5,500 people who work for the company, one of the few businesses in Italy in the luxury sector to have revenues in excess of €1 billion. In the financial year that ended on 31 March 2019, its turnover rose by 4.9% to €1.38 billion, with further, albeit modest growth expected for this year.

«When we started out we were young and a little reckless. We liked finding our inner strengths and doing everything on our own. As we grew, both as a business and as people, we began to learn how to build teams and how to work together on a project – explain Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana –. But to get to where we are now freedom and independence were essential, and we still consider them absolutely indispensable».

Over the years rumours of external investors have abounded, perhaps a private equity fund or even the stock exchange. But they have only ever been just that: rumours. «If we were listed or had a purely financial shareholder, even a minority shareholder, we would have to consider other priorities, legitimate ones perhaps, but different to our own – the two designers confirm –. Obviously we keep an eye on the figures, we have been doing since 1985: a company that doesn’t hold its own financially doesn’t go anywhere, while ours has travelled a long way. What we are really interested in, even when we’re balancing the books, is creating collections, stores, events the way we imagine them. Dreams that become reality, every season, always looking to the next». As if there were no tomorrow, a cynic (or envious competitor) might say. But they would be wrong: Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana do think about tomorrow. As soon as one show ends or a collection is launched, they turn their thoughts to the next one. They evaluate projects to expand or restructure their boutiques, and plan marketing and communications campaigns.

Fashion is an industry that is perennially divided, torn even, between the present and future. And yet, paradoxical as it may sound, it is also a constant, seamless journey of evolution. This is especially true in the era of Instagram and social media, where everything happens in real time yet gets old in a heartbeat. Trends travel quickly through fibre optics or 5G, and style has to find some way to adapt. Or perhaps not, at least for Dolce&Gabbana. The two designers were the first, particularly among non-digital natives, to realise the importance of bloggers, influencers and digital celebrities, just as they were among the first (in this case the illustrious precedent was set by Giorgio Armani) to seize upon the important connection with Hollywood, cinema in general and music.

Dolce&Gabbana were pioneers in bringing digital celebrities onto the catwalk, a step up from the “simple” front-row seat alongside fashion magazine editors and important clients. «We were also the first to take it further – they recall –. In our most recent shows we have chosen normal people, selected through street casting, and models who aren’t especially young, at least by the standards that still dominate the fashion industry. We have involved people who began working with us years ago, such as Monica Bellucci, who we now consider a friend and who is more beautiful than ever».

But there are many other fields in which Dolce&Gabbana have followed their instincts and intuition, setting the trend for other designers. One example was the closure of the brand’s second D&G line, which impacted profits in the short-term but in the medium- and long-term has strengthened the brand and its luxury status. Then came perhaps an even more ambitious project for a brand founded as a prêt-à-porter range: high fashion, sartorial fashion and high jewellery and watchmaking (see Il Sole 24 Ore of 12 July for the most recent events held in Sicily). «It is an example of how we use our freedom to stay true to our dreams and help other people to dream. You can’t put a price on that».

Of course, in 34 years of history there are bound to be a few missteps. But every mistake along the way is an opportunity to learn. The two designers are still reeling from the cancellation of the mega show scheduled for last November in Shanghai. A digital communication was misunderstood and led to accusations of disrespect for Chinese culture with the brand being boycotted as a result. In light of the gaffes committed by other brands (Versace and Givenchy most recently) and especially given current events in Hong Kong, almost a year down the line the Shanghai incident has been put into perspective. Yet it still caused personal disappointment and economic damage. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have reflected on and, almost undoubtedly, learnt from the episode. But the imperative then, just as it is now, was to look forward.

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