About two decades ago, Stefano Gabbana turned to his tailor desperately seeking a customized white shirt because he couldn’t find the body-skimming style he coveted.
“It was so much tighter than what the market offered. We started calling it the Gabbana shirt, and I still have it in my closet in Portofino and wear it from time to time,” said Gabbana with a chuckle during a recent interview in Dolce & Gabbana’s Via San Damiano headquarters.
The inability to find clothes cut to their liking, coupled with a desire to tell the world how men should dress, is what compelled Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana to unveil their first men’s wear collection in January 1990.
Today, after two decades in men’s wear, the designers’ signatures are instantly recognizable via such staple looks as a blazer over a ribbed tank top and torn jeans and abs-revealing lean silhouettes.
Changing the codes of men’s dressing is an achievement in itself, but that’s in addition to the brand’s commercial clout. Dolce & Gabbana’s men’s wear accounts for nearly half the company’s $1.96 billion business. The designers said men’s also has proven to be more immune to the recession than other categories.
Here, the designers talk about the past, the present and the future of their men’s wear business.
WWD: Looking back at photos of your first show in 1990, what do you see? What would you change?
Stefano Gabbana: Everything and nothing…everything because 20 years ago the proportions were different and nothing because our first collection already bore our signature. If it took us about four seasons to find the formula with the women’s collection, we felt more confident and serene with the men’s. We knew he was Mediterranean, passionate and easily identifiable. When we look at those images, both Domenico and I can’t help saying how much more daring we were then…now we’re a bit more religiose.
WWD: Why is that?
S.G.: In the past two decades, men’s fashion underwent a profound yet silent revolution. There was the urge to scream a message of change, because in the Eighties and Nineties fashion — or anything more innovative — was perceived as something for gay men or weirdos. It’s not like that anymore. Men crave fashion and buy and change their clothes based on the occasion. For us, the big break happened at the end of the Nineties, when we started working with David Beckham, a hot, straight man with a family and kids.
Domenico Dolce: Men started thinking, If he can dress that way, so can I. Soccer players had a huge impact on the evolution of men’s wear, at least for us.
WWD: What do you think your contribution to men’s wear has been?
S.G.: The fit. In the beginning, we had problems with our skinny silhouettes, especially in the U.S., where it was all about ample volumes. That’s changed because the men we dress work out and lead healthier lifestyles, so they want to feel and look sexier.
D.D.: If you’re in shape and have a great body, why not show it off?
WWD: How does the Sicilian influence characterize your men’s wear?
SG: We’re equally attracted by Sicilian nobility and by simple people, because in both classes we see a lot of dignity. A person’s attitude toward life is important.
D.D.: And that’s why in our collections there is always a mix of poor and rich with a mix-and-match of wholesome sweaters, ripped jeans alongside precisely cut pieces.
WWD: Domenico, talk about growing up in Sicily and the memories you preserve of your father, who was a tailor.
D.D.: He taught me everything I know. About 40 people worked with my dad, so it was quite a big business. At the time, in Sicily, there were two ways of dress codes — the attire of countrymen and farmers, who went from rural to Sunday church dressing, and the aristocrats. What I remember is the quality of the fabrics, the colors, the cuts, the attention and the relationship between the tailor and the client.
S.G.: Domenico sewed his first pair of pants at seven.
D.D.: Yes, I grew up in my dad’s workshop and played with swatches rather than with soldiers and cars.
WWD: How do sartorial details make the difference and how do you apply them to large-scale production?
D.D.: Everything is important in a suit: the fabric, the lining, the stitching, the proportions and cut….I’m obsessed with the cut. I like to cut and to work with a needle and thread as much as I can. By now we have reached such a technological evolution that the artisanal and sartorial production aren’t separate worlds anymore. The quality of the finished product is guaranteed by a manic attention throughout all the production chain, from the sketch to the manufacturing. We make our own prototypes that we use to study the proportions, details, everything. The only thing an industrial production can’t guarantee is the one-to-one relationship, but we make up for it with in-store attention.
WWD: What is the future evolution of your men’s wear?
SG: Maintaining our style and essence over trends, because now more than ever that’s what people want from us.