THE MOD COUPLE
Byline: Lorna Koski
NEW YORK — Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana aren’t the usual diners at the Four Seasons. In fact, when they went to lunch there one recent Tuesday, they startled some: Dolce sported a baseball cap with the D & G initials; Gabbana wore a tight, Edwardian-style pinstriped suit without a tie, but with an earring and a diamond bracelet. In the room with them was half of power New York — Dawn Mello, S.I. Newhouse, Philip Johnson, John Lindsay, Barbaralee Diamondstein-Spielvogel and Betsy Gotbaum.
“It was very strange; it’s not our world at all,” Dolce says. “I was fascinated by the decor and mood of the place. It was very businesslike and very Eighties, but the decor was very Seventies. Rich, high, very opulent business chic. I felt maybe we could go to a table and get somebody to back us for a lot of money.”
But they’re hardly in dire need of cash. Dolce & Gabbana, the company, launched in 1985, projects total 1994 revenues of about $125 million. The designers made their reputations as early advocates of the dandy and lingerie looks and by infusing multicultural influences into beautiful, sexy clothes.
Fresh from the triumphant showing of their spring collection, with its Seventies’ touches and seam-burstingly tight silhouettes, Dolce and Gabbana were in town to work on their new advertising campaign, which was being shot by Michel Comte. But they took an hour to sit down in their SoHo showroom — replete with carved, 17th-century chairs and lush, 19th-century velvet pillows — and, in their characteristic bantering manner, talk fashion.
“I like New York for the people in the street,” Dolce says. “The things that normal people wear are very interesting. New York is like the world; it’s a continuous encounter of all different cultures. There’s a continuous creativity every day. Even if you don’t have any ideas, you see people, you see things happening in New York, and you get a lot of different ideas.”
Dolce and Gabbana do get around. They visited the newly reopened Studio 54, along with the Tunnel, The Roxy and such restaurants as Lucky Cheng’s, the Markham and Odeon. The Empire Diner is their favorite place for breakfast in New York.
During the Milan shows, some expected the pair — known for their wicked sense of humor — to present a few prison stripes in honor of the ongoing tax investigations in Italian fashion. But the designers didn’t — and they also say the authorities haven’t contacted them. This, says Dolce, is because “We were too young. We didn’t have enough money to get into any trouble.”
“When the other ones were already rich and millionaires, we were being born,” Gabbana adds.”The others hit the Lotto, but we didn’t get any of the Lotto.”
“They’re doing this to all kinds of businesses,” Dolce says. “The corruption in fashion is very, very small corruption, but the agencies were ordered to go out and investigate fashion, so they had to.”
As for the Dolce & Gabbana collection itself, the mood they’re trying to achieve, according to Dolce, is “a comfortable elegance.”
“From the Twenties, to the Sixties, the rebellion against having to be elegantly dressed — this was an exaggerated change,” he explains. “But it went so far that it canceled everything. The Eighties canceled all elegance and taste — it was all money. How much did it cost? If it was very expensive, it was OK. Elegance didn’t matter any more.”
But the Nineties aren’t much better. “I would like to come home and find my wife in a beautiful chiffon dress, not like what women wear now…jeans, sneakers,” Dolce says.
“Rollers,” says Gabbana.
Asked about specific women they admire, Dolce says, “We’re fans of Madonna, so we like working with her. She’s one of the women who inspire us. Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren are the other two. Madonna is like an expression of Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren for now, in the present, feminine and very strong. Before, all the star women we liked were from the film industry, but in the last 10 years, it’s been from rock.”
But Isabella Rossellini, who appeared in their show and is featured in their current ad campaign, is another favorite. “She has a lot of contrast,” says Gabbana. “She’s Italian, but international at the same time, very sensual and very funny at the same time, very masculine and very feminine.
“We don’t think only men can be powerful and strong,” he adds. “Women represent sexuality and everything better. Behind the heads of the Mafia, the leaders of culture, there are always very strong women. European culture is a matriarchy, especially in the South. The women have a lot of power.”
“Maybe you don’t see the women, but they’re making the decisions,” says Dolce. “They wear the pants, make the decisions…”
“In everything,” says Gabbana.
When the talk turns to the hoary controversy about length in fashion, Gabbana says, “It’s something for selling more — so everybody has to change. Whatever they do in Milan, they do the opposite in Paris.”
“It’s one floor,” says Dolce, indicating a short dress length on his own thigh — “second floor, new fabric, zoop, zoop…”
“The fashion system now is very inconsistent,” says Gabbana.
“It’s very stupid,” Dolce states.
“Trendy is not chic, not elegant, not something that stays,” says Gabbana. “In fact, that’s what happened to fashion in the Eighties. It would last two months. Trendy, trendy, trendy — it lasts two months, then it’s finished.”
As for other designers, Dolce says,”Il Grande Maestro is Armani.” “We like him as a person and for all that he has done for the fashion of Italy,” explains Gabbana. “Italian fashion came to America thanks to Armani.”
“In the past, he’s done fashion,” says Dolce. “Now it’s recognizable, in a very stylish way. It’s something that powerful people, very famous people wear. Trendy is short, fashion is long, style is forever.”
Dolce calls Karl Lagerfeld “a fashion designer, very attentive to fashion.”
Then there’s their hero Yves Saint Laurent. “In couture, after him, there’s nobody so far,” says Gabbana. “His chicness, elegance, nobody has it. We want Saint Laurent to return and blossom again. Today’s couture is not real couture.”
“In the Seventies, everything was very ugly, very sloppy-looking, and he did very chic things,” Dolce says. “He was the star of fashion.” The pair share a most unlikely ambition: One day they’d like to design for Saint Laurent’s couture house. This idea, Dolce says, is “a dream for us, just like I would like to be a rock star like Madonna, singing in front of millions. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good body or a good voice.”
Gabbana describes Saint Laurent’s influence on their current collection: “The masculine feeling — tuxedos, high shoes with pants, the combination of strong colors with black.” “For us, to talk about chic means YSL,” says Dolce.
Fashion magazines today, however, seem to have moved away from the whole idea of chic. What do they make of this?
“At this moment, the magazines and the newspapers only show things that don’t sell. All the designers want to be trendy,” says Gabbana. “The fashion magazines tell the designers what to do. If all the designers do la mode pink, the magazines want black. They want to do something that’s not commercial at all, and they don’t want designers to say what’s in fashion. They want to dictate it themselves.”
“And so these editors tell the designers what to do and tell each other what to do,” adds Dolce.
“At this point, the editors should design the collection themselves,” Gabbana says.
“We will send the fabric, make the labels, the magazines can make the clothes and put on the labels,” says Dolce. “We will go on vacation.”
“It’s not so bad,” Gabbana concludes.