“Not too hot? We love the warm, but this is too much!” Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce are in Dubai, but appear unimpressed by the mild October day, at least for UAE standards. Just off the plane, they are sitting in an elegant majlis, close to a window that overlooks a carpet of green grass and palm trees. On the table next to us stands a pyramid of dates. Apart from any weather-induced discomfort, the designers look quite at home in the Middle East.
Originally printed in the November 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia
One step ahead of the other international luxury brands, Dolce & Gabbana understood early on the potential of the Arab luxury market, having developed a pioneering Ramadan capsule collection of abayas (January 2016) and soon afterwards even makeup targeting the Arab woman. Last month, fashion’s most dynamic duo took their love for the region up a notch and hosted a magnificent show in Fashion Avenue at The Dubai Mall, featuring 127 looks that embrace the lifestyle of its local clients.
“Coming to Dubai is not just a holiday trip. We want to make the world understand what Dolce & Gabbana is, and offer a personal experience to this region,” explains Gabbana. “This allows us to have a real conversation with people and understand our clients better. When we do a show in Mexico City or Tokyo, we always include elements of the local culture. We don’t want to colonize anyone.” Dolce adds, “It is our obligation as guests. Today, with globalization, all is the same. So why would we come to Dubai if it is not to embrace the emirate? If someone were to come to my village to make a tribute, I would say thank you!”
The designers find many things to be in common between the Arab world and Italy, where they hail from (Dolce is Sicilian and Gabbana, Milanese). Describing the Middle East as a “mysterious region,” they point to the use of black, the intensity of the eyes, and the veil as some cultural similarities.
“Especially in Sicily, there is a lot of influence from the Arab countries. You can even taste it in the food. Near Palermo, there’s an area where you can eat the best couscous ever,” highlights Dolce. This doesn’t imply that it was a straightforward process to create a collection that would be deemed culturally appropriate, especially for a brand whose DNA is not just feminine but sensual, too. Yet, the pair has designed modest clothing in the past, having previously cast in their shows hijabi model Halima Aden and Bahraini royal Sheikha Dana Al Khalifa. “We have been working on this collection for one year, making sure we had the perfect embroidery, prints, scarfs, and abayas to be worn over the evening looks,” reassure the duo. “Cultural sensitivity is sometimes complicated and we wanted to be sure not to offend anyone. We spoke to many women, but never had very clear answers. It was like a fog.”
While the Italian designers travel the world, the Dolce & Gabbana collections are increasingly grounded in its roots, constantly referencing Italian folklore, religion, and decorative motifs that you could find inside a Sicilian palazzo. Maximalism, florals, embroidery, brocade, animal prints, and an explosion of shimmer and color are recurring staples in every collection, independent of the season. If you spot one of the dresses on a runway, you instantly know it is Dolce & Gabbana.
With designs proudly “made in Italy,” the duo shares that they especially enjoy collaborating with Italian artisans, reusing and learning old crafts. “We have discovered amazing artisans who work with print leather, straw, embroidery, filigree… There are very small companies in the Tuscany, Veneto, and Puglia regions that are like creative labs that turn our dreams into reality.”
However, don’t be deceived by the sense of nostalgia and the Italian mamas featured in the advertising campaigns. Dolce & Gabbana is a brand of the future. A hint: last winter’s Milan fashion show, when the Devotion It bag debuted on the runway carried by drones.
Apart from the Instagrammable gimmicks, the brand is also a pioneer in its use of the internet, and wisely uses social media in its favor. When bloggers and influencers started to bloom in the industry, the Italian brand quickly understood the power of their reach, inviting them to walk their shows and sit in the front row of their coveted presentations.
“Internet didn’t change our business, it just changed our way of communicating,” declares Gabbana. “In the beginning, we worked with them, because that was the reality of the times… But things changed. Last season, we had no influencers in the front row, just a couple on the runway. Social networks became cheap. Before, I loved the idea of sharing a lifestyle in a genuine way, while today it is all about business. Our VIP clients won’t buy a dress because they see it on an influencer; on the contrary…”
Gabbana is clearly the most internet-savvy of the duo, and in the past, has been extremely active on social media – not forgoing celebrity feuds, to the delight of the gossip press. He has since announced the closure of his personal Instagram account, arguing that the internet has become a space for “repressed and frustrated bullies,” and not the type of environment he wishes to be a part of.
When I suggest that this is an unexpected path for the designer at the helm of a brand that heavily relies on technology and futurism, he strikes back with a reminder of the important things in life. “The future is not just the moon. It’s technology, but we still like our good old Italian pasta,” he laughs. “We are free men, our job is our life, and everything is spontaneous… The future is just another chapter.”
Photography: DOMEN / VAN DE VELDE
Style: Pablo Patanè
Hair: Bianca Hartkopf, Stèfan Jemeel at MMG
Makeup: Yvonne Nusdorfer at Angelique Hoorn Management for NARS
Makeup assistant: Athina Doutis
Styling assistant: Moa Sandberg
Production: Björn Schütrumpf
Shot on location at JA Al Sahra Desert Resort
Carpets courtesy of FBMI