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MILAN — Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have a larger canvas on which to project their fashion fairy tale.
With their sprawling new women’s flagship here, Dolce and Gabbana aren’t just unveiling a new retail concept, they’re embracing a kind of egalitarian luxe. Located at 26 Via Della Spiga, just doors down from their original store, the 11,800-square-foot space may stock everything from jeans to $100,000 one-of-a-kind pieces in the by-appointment-only VIP room, but its purpose, according to the duo, is to offer the same thing to women of all budgets.
“Fashion is a dream. Fashion is luxury and when a woman goes to buy fashion — actually, when we all go to shop — we want, even if it’s just for a moment, to dream that we’re in a fairy tale,” Dolce told WWD during an exclusive preview of the store last week.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a tank top or an incredibly special piece, the approach is the same. At that moment, you’re buying a dream.”
An in-store cafe, along with some dozen handmade black Murano glass chandeliers, enclosed Sicilian garden atria and fitting rooms covered entirely in mirrors, create a high-gloss fantasy with a palpable Dolce & Gabbana imprint.
In fact, the duo’s signature gray balsatina stone floor is the only matte surface in the store. Mirrored mannequins are sprinkled throughout, some lounging across long, black, glass fixtures, others positioned next to chain-link curtains that cascade over windows. Marble is sparingly used to frame cash register areas and thresholds, while big gold Ds and Gs serve as door handles.
“We want to give women a sense of luxury,” Gabbana said. “A real sensation of something superluxurious, something that makes one dream.”
The space until recently housed two separate Dolce & Gabbana stores, accessories and vintage, and from the street, they still appear as two distinct units with individual entrances. The combined stores now have eight windows on the Via Della Spiga, creating a dominant space in one of Milan’s prime shopping streets for the $675 million company, which last year had pretax profits of $102.1 million.
But, while the store looks like two units on the outside, on the inside, silver escalators seamlessly connect the horseshoe-shaped store.
Whether entering from the right or the left, once in the back of the store, four escalators ferry customers back and forth. The massive structure, 20 feet at its tallest, dips into a well, where a dual-sided, cinema-size, flat-screen television framed in black glass is suspended from the ceiling.
On one side of the escalators is a long gallery stocked with accessories, while the other, its symmetrical equivalent, is dedicated to sweaters and T-shirts.
“It’s really like a small department store,” Dolce said.
To that end, the designers dedicated certain areas to specific clothing segments and for the first time are filling fixtures with three sizes of every garment. “We like this idea of luxury, but quick luxury, because no one has time to spare,” Dolce said. “We didn’t want anymore to have just one item out on the floor. We don’t want customers to have to wait for the sales clerk to go to storage. This way, it’s out, she sees it, she tries it and it’s done.”
Of course, if a customer wants to shop leisurely, that’s an option, as well.
Pulling from their men’s store one door down on Corso Venezia, the designers have set up a smaller version of the martini bar within the new store, while throughout the shop, S-shaped black velvet divans weave in and out.
Then there’s the VIP room. Covered by a suggestive black velvet curtain, special customers can enter the space and select one-of-a-kind pieces tucked behind leopard-and-gold-covered doors. Created by the designers, the one-off dresses, furs or even embroidered jeans sell for between $1,200 and $120,000. They are not part of the collections and are not shown on the runway.
Meanwhile, nestled in the back of the VIP room is yet an even more exclusive area, for the truly select few. There, a customer will find only a handful of garments.
“It’s really couture,” Gabbana said. “Actually, it’s more than couture because these clothes are the truest sense of exclusivity.”
Dolce said the idea for doing these pieces came about two years ago during a conversation with Isabella Rossellini, who was complaining about the exposure a dress would get even before it was ever worn. “It should be a surprise, what a woman wears to a party or an event,” Dolce said. “So often dresses have been photographed or seen on the runway and it’s no longer a surprise, just a product.”
Ironically, product is exactly what Dolce and Gabbana want the focus to be in the rest of the store. Adjustable recess and spot-lighting tracks highlight the clothes, which are segmented into different categories, such as basics and tailored clothing.
“The most important thing about this store is the product,” Dolce said. “We had a little difficulty with the architects on that point, but we didn’t care, this was our store.”
They worked with a series of architects, including David Chipperfield, interior designer Feruccio Laviani and lighting specialist Arnold Chan of Studio Isometrix, to complete the store.
The designers started envisioning the project almost three years ago when they got the lease to the current palazzo, which was once owned by the Innocenti family, makers of the Mini Cooper in Italy during the Fifties and Sixties. The palazzo’s original pine, brass and frosted-glass doors were kept as part of the store’s interior.
Work got under way over the past year, yet instead of putting up an Under Construction sign, the duo smartly filled the front space of the palazzo with two separate stores — selling their accessories and vintage collections — while Chipperfield and his team excavated the back of the building. Their original women’s store will now be devoted to their accessories collections, while the new flagship will have a corner devoted to the vintage line.
The designers declined to give the cost of the project; however Dolce & Gabbana’s director of general affairs Cristiana Ruella has said in the past that the company spends an average of 651 euros, or about $788 at current exchange, for every square foot. With that calculation, the new store would run around 7.7 million euros, or $9.3 million. Yet, the designers would be the first to point out that this is not an average store. “It didn’t have a budget,” Dolce said.
What it did have was the mandate to attract customers. “What we really believe in right now is the new generation,” Dolce said. “I remember being young and dreaming about Armani and Versace. I could only buy maybe one item a season. I couldn’t buy a lot, but I think young people today should have the same feeling. It’s right to educate the new generation about beauty.”
Their vehicle for education will eventually expand outside of Milan. The company is planning to remodel its New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris stores in the new concept, although the designers could not provide a time line.
“It’s not that we want to dictate or be teachers. It’s not arrogance,” Dolce said. “It’s to bring to life even simple things in a special place. Beauty is beauty and everyone likes it, just like good food.”