An Italian luxury fashion house founded in 1985 in Legnano by Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.
The two met in Milan in 1980 and designed for the same fashion house. In 1982, they established a designer consulting studio; in time it grew to become “Dolce & Gabbana”. They presented their first women’s collection in 1985 in Milan, where a year later their store would open its doors.
In 1988, they launched a leotard line, and in 1989 they began designing underwear and swimming costumes. Dolce & Gabbana started to export their products to Japan and other countries including the United States, where they founded their own showroom in 1990. In 1992, the same year they presented their men’s collection, they also launched their first perfume Dolce & Gabbana. They won the Woolmarkaward in 1991, and Perfume’s Academy “Most Feminine Flavor of the Year” in 1993 for their fragrance Dolce & Gabbana Parfum.
The first collection from the design duo was shown in October 1985 alongside five other up-and-coming Italian labels as part of Milan Fashion Week. The two did not have enough money to hire models or provide accessories for them, so they sought help from their friends. The models (their friends) simply wore their personal items to complement the clothing. They used a bed sheet that Dolce had brought from home as their stage curtain.
The pair labeled their first collection Real Women, due in part to the use of local women as models on the runway. Sales from their first collection were disappointing enough for Gabbana to cancel the fabric order they’d put in to create their second collection. However, Dolce’s family offered to help meet their costs when the two visited them in Sicily over Christmas, while incidentally, the fabric company did not receive the cancellation notice in time so the fabric was ready for them back in Milan upon their return. They produced the next collection in 1986 and opened their first store that same year. Michael Gross wrote of their third collection in a 1992 interview, “They were a secret known only to a handful of Italian fashion editors. Their few models changed behind a rickety screen. They called their collection of T-shirt-cotton and elastic-silk pieces, Transformation.” The clothing in this collection came with instructions on the seven different ways a piece could be worn in an outfit, as the wearer could use Velcro and snaps to alter the clothing’s form.
Their fourth collection was the first to make a significant impact on the Italian fashion market. In this collection, Dolce drew upon his Sicilian roots. The collection’s advertising campaign was shot by photographer Ferdinando Scianna in Sicily, and featured Dutch model Marpessa Hennink in black and white pictures inspired by the Italian cinema of the 1940s. They continued the use of Italian cinema as inspiration in their fifth collection, drawing on the work of filmmaker Luchino Visconti and his film The Leopard.
One of the pieces from their fourth collection was labeled “The Sicilian Dress” by the fashion press, and was named by author Hal Rubenstein as one of the 100 most important dresses ever designed. It is considered to be the most representative piece of this era for the brand. Rubenstein described the piece in 2012 by writing, “The Sicilian dress is the essence of Dolce & Gabbana, the brand’s sartorial touchstone. The dress takes its cue from a slip—but it’s a slip that’s adorned Anna Magnani, and it’s a silhouette that has graced Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren, [and so forth]. The straps fit tight to the body just as bra straps would; the neckline runs straight across but gets waylaid at least twice, once on each side to caress each breast and in the middle to meet an uplifting tuck that’s giving a gentle push up. The slip doesn’t just slide down, but comes in at the waist to hold the figure firmly but not too tightly and then widens to emphasise the hips, only to fall with a slight taper at the knees to guarantee that the hips will sway when the wearer walks.”
In 1987, the two launched a separate knitwear line and in 1989, they started designing a lingerie line and a beachwear line. Two years later, they launched their leotard line. In 1989, Dolce & Gabbana opened their first store in Japan in partnership with Kashiyama Co. They started to export their products to the United States, where they founded their own showroom in 1990. In 1992, the same year that they presented their men’s collection, they also launched their first perfume Dolce & Gabbana. They won an “Oscar des Parfums” for best male perfume in 1996 from the French Parfum Academy, the first time ever that the title has been awarded to an Italian brand. Towards the end of the 1990s their sales were around $500 million and in 2003 alone, their revenue reached $633.2 million. In 1990, they launched their first men’s collection. That year, they also moved the design house into its first official offices and began to design gowns and other more expensive pieces in addition to their original clothing. Their 1990 Spring/Summer women’s collection referenced the mythological painting of Raphael, and the duo began to build a reputation for crystal-encrusted clothing. The 1991 Fall/Winter women’s collection was also adorned by trinkets, including filigree medals and embellished corsets. The 1992 Fall/Winter women’s collection was then inspired by the silver screen of the 1950s, though the collection still included crystal embellished body suits.
In 1991, their men’s collection was awarded the Woolmark Award for the most innovative men’s collection of the year. What is considered to be their first foray into international recognition came when Madonna wore a corset made of gemstones and an accompanying jacket from Dolce & Gabbana at the 1991 New York City premiere of Truth or Dare: In Bed with Madonna. The duo then partnered with Madonna in 1993 to design over 1500 costumes for the artist’s Girlie Show international tour in support of her 1992 album Erotica. In an interview about the costumes, Madonna stated that, “Their clothes are sexy with a sense of humor—like me.” In 1994, the house’s trademark double-breasted jacket was named “La Turlington” after model Christy Turlington. That same year the company launched its second main line—D&G, a line aimed at younger individuals. In 1996 the D&G runway show was streamed only on the Internet and not the runway, in an experimental move towards new media. That year Dolce & Gabbana also designed the costumes for the film Romeo + Juliet.
In the film industry, both Dolce & Gabbana appeared in the 1995 film The Star Maker (L’Uomo delle Stelle) by director Giuseppe Tornatore, playing minor roles as extras. They appeared in more significant cameo roles in Rob Marshall’s film-adaptation of Nine. As stylists, they also worked on the music video Girl Panic! by Duran Duran.
In terms of market expansion, in 1989 Dolce & Gabbana signed an agreement with the Kashiyama group to open their first boutique in Japan. They released their first fragrance for women in 1992, called “Dolce & Gabbana Pour Femme”, which was awarded the Perfume Academy’s 1993 award for best feminine fragrance of the year. Their first male fragrance, “Dolce & Gabbana pour Homme”, was the recipient of the best masculine fragrance of the year award from the same Academy in 1995. That year Dolce & Gabbana’s collections caused a controversy with the British and Italian press, when they selected the American gangster motif as inspiration for their work. Dolce & Gabbana transposed this Fall/Winter 1995 inspiration onto women’s wear, which critics stated brought an erotic edge to the clothing. The duo had used the motif before in 1992 when photographer Steven Meiselshot an ad campaign for the house in which the models posed in “gangster chic”. This included wide-lapelled 1930s style coats and black leather caps. Author Nirupama Pundir stated that, “Dolce & Gabbana, with their superfeminine and fantastical style, broke away from the serious and sober-minded fashions that dominated during much of the Nineties.”
Dolce & Gabbana continued to work with Madonna, designing the costumes for her Drowned World Tour in 2001, in support of her 2000 album Music. They also designed costumes for the international tours of Missy Elliott, Beyoncé, and Mary J. Blige. In 1999, the duo appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in support of singer Whitney Houston, who used the show to debut the Dolce & Gabbana designed costumes for her My Love Is Your Love tour, considered by fashion and music critics to be unusually risqué. The duo continued to design costumes for musical artists through the 2000s, including the costumes for Kylie Minogue’s Showgirl Homecoming tour. Madonna also participated in Dolce & Gabbana’s 2010 advertising campaigns.
In the 2000s, Dolce & Gabbana took a great deal of inspiration from the sport of football as well. In 2003 the men’s line took its main inspiration from the world’s great football stars. Other forms of art began taking inspirations from Dolce & Gabbana too. In 2003 dance music artist Frankie Knuckles said that the fashion house was a “great barometer” for trends in both fashion and music. As for their impact on the design world, in 2002 the corsets that were a key part of Dolce & Gabbana’s early designs were revived by many of Europe’s main designers as a trend. In recent years Dolce & Gabbana has begun holding private viewings of their new collections for buyers, in order to sell their collections before they become public and to pre-empt the copying of their designs by fast fashion companies.
By 2005 their turnover was €597 million. In 2006, the company started a new journey in accessories and leather goods for men and women. The company also ventured into cosmetics, with Scarlett Johansson as the face of the advertising campaign.
In 2012, D&G was merged with Dolce & Gabbana in order to strengthen the main line. The final independent D&G collection was the Spring/Summer 2012 collection shown in September 2011. The New Yorkerpublished in 2005 that, “Dolce and Gabbana are becoming to the two-thousands what Prada was to the nineteen-nineties and Armani was to the nineteen-eighties—gli stilisti whose sensibility defines the decade.” As for personal awards, in both 1996 and 1997 Dolce & Gabbana were named by FHM as the designers of the year. In 2003 GQ Magazine named Dolce & Gabbana among their “Men of the Year”. The following year readers of British Elle voted Dolce & Gabbana the best international designers at the 2004 Elle Style Awards. Dolce & Gabbana celebrated the 20th anniversary of their brand on 19 June 2010 at the Piazza della la Scala and Palazzo Marino in Milan. A public exhibition was also held the following day that included a room in which several dozen televisions were piled haphazardly upon each other, each showing a different collection from the design house’s twenty-year history.