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Dolce & Gabbana: Men’s on the Fast Track

Once considered primarily a women's fashion house, Dolce & Gabbana has methodically closed the sales gap and continues to gain stature as a men's company.

MILAN — Dolce & Gabbana’s first New York men’s store, which opens Tuesday at

825-827 Madison Avenue adjacent to its refurbished women’s flagship, is more than just an effort to give men a space of their own. It also reflects the increased importance of the designers’ burgeoning men’s business.

Once considered primarily a women’s fashion house, Dolce & Gabbana has methodically closed the sales gap and continues to gain stature as a men’s company with both its Dolce & Gabbana and D&G lines.

The company’s men’s business—with average gains of 14 percent a year since 2005—is growing faster than its women’s. Men’s now represents about 40 percent of total sales, which at the consolidated level have passed the billion-euro threshold.

For the 12 months ended March 31, consolidated revenue advanced 30 percent to 1.05 billion euros, or $1.34 billion, placing the brand in the heady realm of other Italian powerhouses like Giorgio Armani, Prada and Gucci. Net profit soared 38 percent to 149 million euros, or $191 million. (All figures are converted at average rates to the period in which they refer.)

Men’s wear has been a prime engine behind Dolce & Gabbana’s steady rise, and the designers are intent to capitalize on it to maintain that momentum.

“Men’s wear has changed completely,” Stefano Gabbana told DNR recently during an interview in the designers’ Milan studio. “It’s changed in every possible way. Men love fashion. They love themselves and they aren’t afraid to show off.”

Neither are Gabbana nor his design partner, Domenico Dolce, who base their men’s business on the straightforward philosophy of creating collections that meet a man’s every need, whether he’s in the office or at the gym. “Men’s is really about style,” Dolce said.

“Yes, but it’s also fashion,” Gabbana interjected. “It’s a different kind of fashion than women’s because it’s less in-your-face. It’s based on more details.” < Sales are also in the details. The designers have systematically built up their men’s business, both stylistically and operationally, over the past two years. Cristiana Ruella, managing director of the privately held company, said Dolce & Gabbana invested 37 million euros, or $47.4 million, on building their four men’s-only stores in Milan, Paris, L.A. and New York. A London men’s store is also in the works. Meanwhile, the company has invested heavily in marketing for both men’s and women’s. In fiscal 2007, it spent 122.2 million euros, or $156.4 million, on advertising for the Dolce & Gabbana and D&G lines combined. “We’ve truly supported the men’s growth,” said Ruella during an interview earlier this fall. “First of all, the designers have done an incredible job of conceiving the collection. On the operations side, we’ve invested significant resources to support such specialized production.”

As Dolce noted, “A jacket should be just as beautiful, if not more so, on the inside as it is on the outside.”

The investments in men’s wear have been made on several fronts. The designers have expanded the breadth and depth of each category—the Dolce & Gabbana brand has several dress shirt fits, for example, and the New York shop boasts a room dedicated entirely to them. At the same time, the duo has aimed to continually improve the quality of their men’s wear.

“Today a guy wants everything, and he knows how to use clothes in the right way for the right occasion,” Dolce said. “Men really understand the function of clothes.”

Although some may associate Dolce & Gabbana style with denim and leather jackets, tailored clothing makes up a great part of its men’s wear sales, which on a wholesale level generated 568.9 million euros, or $728.2 million—42 percent of the company’s wholesale revenue in fiscal 2007.

Total wholesale revenue, meaning sales of Dolce & Gabbana and D&G products by both the group and third-party licensees, reached 1.35 billion euros, or $1.73 billion. Tack on the sales of the gold Dolce & Gabbana Motorazr V3i cell phone and that number rises to 1.55 billion euros, or just under $2 billion. (The company uses the wholesale figure to break down sales by product, brand and geographic market.)

Despite the importance of suits and jackets to the designers’ men’s business, Dolce is loath to use words like “tailoring” or “sartorial.” “They sound old to me,” he said. “I much prefer to say a jacket is well-cut or that a jacket makes you feel good, at ease.”

Dolce and Gabbana have very specific ideas on men’s wear—what works and what doesn’t. “Designing men’s is a more personal approach because we’re two men,” Gabbana said. “Decisions and choices come a bit quicker and easier. It’s like, ‘Let me try this out,’” he added, motioning as though he were about to try something on.

This instinctive approach recently prompted the duo to pull all traditional wide ties from their mix. Now only slim ones are sold in their stores.

Slim is also the watchword for their pre-fall 2008 collection, which, as Dolce noted, “is no longer a precollection. It’s the collection.”

Over the past three years the designers have radically built up the size and design quotient of the precollections. Shown and sold more than six weeks before the runway collection, they make up more than 80 percent of sales. “The collection [we’re selling now] is totally complete and answers every need a man could have,” said Dolce.

Highlights of the collection, which retailers started buying last week, include snug leather outerwear and razor-sharp suits with hyper-slim lapels. “The jackets are very linear, almost architectural,” Dolce said.

The collection also offers a full range of products, delivered in three installments. This system provides clients with early deliveries and a quicker replenishment of new merchandise, while enabling the designers to experiment more freely on the runway and trade up with limited-edition items. “We like to evolve and grow and get better,” said Dolce. “We must always look positively to the future.”

Plans include growing both Dolce & Gabbana and D&G, which was taken in-house starting with the spring 2007 collection. Currently Dolce & Gabbana generates 56 percent of wholesale revenue and D&G the remainder.

While emerging markets like China and India are ripe for expansion, the company still sees much potential in the United States. In 2007, U.S. sales accounted for 13 percent of revenue, but that figure is modest compared with that of some of the company’s competitors. For example, 25 percent of Ermenegildo Zegna’s sales come from the U.S.

Italy accounts for the lion’s share of Dolce & Gabbana revenue—39 percent—followed by the rest of Europe, at 30 percent. Japan generates 4 percent; other Asian countries, 7 percent; and the rest of the world, the remaining 7 percent.

Although Ruella noted that the company is studying other store locations in the U.S., including San Francisco, she said the immediate objective is to strengthen Dolce & Gabbana’s wholesale presence.

“What we certainly want to do is to gain more space within [department and specialty] stores so that our final consumer can get a 360-degree sense of our collections,” Ruella said. Earlier this year Dolce traveled to the U.S. to seek a firsthand perspective of how the designers’ collections are bought and merchandised. He was not always favorably impressed. “No one looked at me. No one explained the collection to me,” he recalled. “I thought: Why are we doing all this work, for what?”

Gabbana added: “Today you have to be very, very attentive in all aspects—production, merchandising and selling—because the client often knows more than the sales associate. The customer is very prepared.”

Just as the designers decided to nix wide ties, they recently opted to halt production of more-forgiving American sizes and to sell the European-cut collections in the U.S. as well. “Our clients are international,” Gabbana said. “They search out the Dolce & Gabbana style.”

Any doubt that such a well-defined, identifiable style exists will be put to rest Tuesday night when the designers launch their newest men’s fragrance, The One for Men. They tapped Matthew McConaughey for the print and TV ad campaign, in which the actor traded in his scruffy-haired, bare-chested beach look for a more-polished style that is unmistakably Dolce & Gabbana.

“The nice thing about our men’s business is that we’ve created a real look,” said Gabbana. “When we go out, we see guys dressed like Dolce & Gabbana even though they’re not wearing Dolce & Gabbana.”

unlike other designers, who tend to scoff at the idea of being commercial, Dolce and Gabbana relish it. For them, a great runway show means little unless the clothes reach the guys on the street.

“When you sell clothes, it means you and your designs are appreciated by the world,” Gabbana said. “That’s far from being a bad thing. Actually it’s the best thing there is.”