DOLCE AND GABBANA: TWO BY TWO
Byline: Sharon Edelson
NEW YORK — Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have executed a fashion double play.
The Italian duo, known for turning average women into screen sirens with strategically placed padding and surgically nipped-and-tucked fabric, are opening stores in two of Manhattan’s hottest neighborhoods one week apart.
A 7,000-square-foot Dolce & Gabbana flagship at 825 Madison Avenue, near 69th Street, will be unveiled Wednesday. Its alter ego, a 5,000-square-foot unit called D&G at 434 West Broadway in SoHo will open on Sept. 10. It will feature the secondary line.
Giorgio Armani accomplished a similar feat last September when he opened a flagship at 760 Madison Avenue and an Emporio Armani store seven blocks south — both on the same day.
“New York is a place where you cannot make a mistake on a store,” said Gabbana. “For us, New York is not only the typical American dream, it’s a world dream. New York is a window on the world.”
The Dolce & Gabbana boutique is a window on the designers’ world, giving American customers their first glimpse of the full collection. Like everything else created by the duo, the store is a set piece, designed to evoke a mood: in this case, modern Italy with echoes of tradition.
If the Dolce & Gabbana boutique uptown is a grand villa, with its circular staircase and Sicilian garden, then the D&G store is a club, with soaring 14-foot ceilings, mirrored pillars and glazed cement floors. One can imagine Dolce and Gabbana, who are so enamored of discos and youth culture, spinning CDs, including their own D&G-production “More More More.”
Since 1994, D&G, the designers’ hip secondary line, has become an unofficial uniform for European youth, ringing up $92 million in annual wholesale sales worldwide. The designers are hoping the logo can become as ubiquitous here.
But in addition to D&G jeans and T-shirts, D&G has evolved into clothes for kids who like to dress up. The line recently began following in the footsteps of its more sophisticated sibling, Dolce & Gabbana, but with lower price points.
The D&G store, which is expected to do $5 million in first-year sales, features crochet cardigans with fox trim collars for $1,000; wool coats trimmed with fox for $1,100; black slipdresses from $200 to $300, and clunky shoes at $260.
Obviously, a big difference between the two collections is the fabrics and production technique. At D&G, a sheer, black sweep of a coat is appliqued with machine-made felt flowers. For Dolce and Gabbana, a similar sheer coat has hand-sewn silk flowers. Another long black evening coat at Dolce & Gabbana has gold embroidery, red silk flowers and Swarovski crystals, for $17,000.
“The SoHo store is stronger, a more geometric architectural design,” Dolce said. “It’s very modern but not minimalist. D&G is more industrial. Dolce & Gabbana is like a house.”
A house that is expected to ring up $10 million in the first year.
The Madison Avenue boutique is streamlined and luxurious, with maroon silk ottomans and stainless steel vitrines. It has fewer overt references to baroque Italy than existing Dolce & Gabbana stores around the world.
The designers have peeled away the gilt veneer that placed them firmly in the baroque period, replacing ornate mirrors and heavily carved furniture with linear mahogany tables and shelves covered in fake white leather. Ocher walls that have all the intensity of the Mediterranean sun have given way to a soft white spazzolato swirled painting technique.
Even music will be carefully orchestrated to set the right tone.
“We’re going to play Pavarotti and some modern music,” said general manager Donna Montgomery, who previously managed the Armani boutique.
“The news is that the New York store is one step forward from the usual ingredients of other Dolce & Gabbana stores,” Dolce said.
The company’s 13 boutiques will be renovated, using the New York prototype as a guide, beginning with the Milan flagship in about six months.
The new Madison Avenue store has Chiarabell limestone floors. Existing stores have limestone floors elaborately etched with a lion motif. The first floor is devoted to accessories for men and women, fragrance, women’s daywear and ready-to-wear that includes some evening pieces. Men’s accessories and rtw are on the second floor, along with sportswear, suits, knitwear and formalwear.
The glass-walled garden will be filled with hand-painted clay pots and cacti native to the Sicilian countryside, which Montgomery calls “barren with dots of color.”
“They take their heritage and use it,” Montgomery says, referring to the designers. “The crochet is from the curtains in the homes. For fall ’97, they did black veils. Domenico’s mother was in the audience at their runway show and she started clapping. It was like a scene from the original ‘Godfather’ when the women in church wore crocheted skirts.”
The Dolce & Gabbana collection has evolved along with the store design.
“In 10 years we’ve cleaned up and grown up a lot,” Dolce says. “Our sense of sophistication has grown a lot. Now we are designing for a more modern woman. We’re lucky we’ve been permitted by our customers and the press to keep our roots without having to change what Dolce and Gabbana is all about. What we’ve changed is that we now use our inspiration in a modern way.
“The concept for the Dolce & Gabbana store specifically mirrors the design of our clothes,” he adds. “This is the first city where the stores have new architecture and new ideas. Ten years ago, when we started, we needed to tell the world exactly where we got our inspiration — Fellini, baroque and the realism of Sicily. Now, when people come in and shop, they should concentrate on the clothes.”
The Madison Avenue boutique has a VIP room on the second floor on one side of the garden. Dolce and Gabbana have a strong Hollywood following, which includes Demi Moore, Liv Tyler, Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon, Isabella Rossellini and Madonna.
“All celebrities come to New York at one point or another and we will always do special pieces for the New York store,” Gabbana said.
“I like their designs because they make clothes for a womanly body,” Madonna told WWD. “Most designers seem to be making clothes for girls with stick bodies who are flat chested, but I always appreciate my own voluptuousness when I’m wearing their dresses.”
“There is a lot of sex appeal that comes through in their clothes,” said Rossellini. “There is a sense of humor. Cinema has been a great influence on them. Anna Magnani. Even Hollywood films, such as the spaghetti Western. It’s Hollywood through the eyes of a country that’s far away.”
The designers had been eyeing Madison Avenue for a store from afar since 1993, but couldn’t find the right space until the original Valentino store on Madison Avenue came on the market.
In the past two years, Madison Avenue has been transformed by new designer flagships such as the two Armani stores, Etro, Luca Luca, Valentino, Malo, Moschino, Prada and Sonia Rykiel. It continues to be one of the most sought-after retail streets in Manhattan.
SoHo has been no less active. Marc Jacobs opened his first boutique on Mercer Street on Aug. 11 (see related story on page 20). Atsuro Tayama and Costume National will open boutiques on Wooster Street this month, and Kenneth Richard is launching a store on Thompson Street. Helmut Lang’s boutique is under construction at 80 Greene Street. In addition, Ralph Lauren will open a Polo Sport unit at 387 West Broadway in a 55,000-square-foot building.
The D&G space in SoHo was easier to find than the uptown location, Gabbana said. While opening both stores at once wasn’t part of the original plan, it gives Dolce and Gabbana a greater presence. Both neighborhoods get tons of tourists.
“We expect to create new customers because by creating a Dolce & Gabbana boutique, a customer will see the world of Dolce & Gabbana,” Dolce said. Until now, the collection has been sold somewhat piecemeal at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York.
The designers view the Dolce & Gabbana collection, which features corset dresses and dresses tightly cinched at the waist, elaborately embroidered coats and sleek velvet maxi coats with fur collars, as the new couture.
“Now many designers use the fabric of couture for pret-a-porter,” Dolce said. “A lot of the clothes are done by hand. About 50 percent of the clothes in our collection are done by hand. We call it pret-a-porter deluxe.
“For a pret-a-porter deluxe like Dolce & Gabbana, a boutique is very important,” he continued. “The boutique makes the product more special and you can control the image in your own boutique.”
Controlling the image of a brand has become a big issue for international designers in recent years. Prada has repeatedly voiced its desire for greater control over its destiny and taken steps in that direction. The company has announced it will open a large store on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, as well as flagships in San Francisco, Chicago and Dallas.
Dolce and Gabbana are willing to give department stores a chance — for now.
“The new way for American distribution is to have good collaborations with department stores,” Dolce says. “There’s a lot of collaboration between designers and stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks to keep the image in sync with the designers. We don’t have a problem with being in a department store as long as it is not overexposed. The boutique reinforces the store.”
The designers are using the Internet to reinforce D&G. Dolce and Gabbana replaced D&G’s runway shows last spring with a Web site, which confirms their view of the world as a fashionable global village, where the Internet speeds images of the latest D&G looks to kids from Milan to Minnesota.
“The new way for D&G is to stop the fashion show,” Gabbana said. “If you want to buy D&G, you access the Internet. We want to use it to communicate to a younger customer.
“All the press and buyers will have information and we give dates when clothes will be in the store so kids can go buy them,” he adds. “We want to spend the money from the show — $900,000 — on advertising. The shows are good for the press but not the customer.”
The duo plans to open Dolce & Gabbana stores in Los Angeles next and after then in San Francisco and Chicago.
They are targeting Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Miami for D&G. There are existing D&G units in Atlanta and Houston, and the designers see room for 10 to 15 stores in American cities, including shopping malls.
“D&G is perfect for America,” Dolce said. “It’s very easy for D&G to open shops in different cities.”