Dolce and Gabbana: 'Before Covid, there were too many collections... it was becoming mad'

Dolce and Gabbana are preparing for the new challenges facing fashion

Sofia Vergara Dolce & Gabbana Devotion Bag
Bestseller: actress Sofia Vergara models the Devotion bag Credit: Dolce & Gabbana

On the sixth floor of their HQ in Milan, Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce are confronting a very different reality from the one they anticipated back in February.

On Sunday, their autumn winter show closed Milan Fashion Week. The following week, Italy entered one of the most draconian lockdowns of any country in Europe. Domenico Dolce, masked and gloved up, continued to go to work every day, along with a handful of other staff who were able to continue their jobs. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from lockdown,” he says thoughtfully, “it’s that I always need to work”.

Initially that meant turning inwards, because without all the normal signals, who knew what people would want to wear? Dolce & Gabbana’s clientele – especially those who buy the ultra luxurious Alta Moda collections – normally have packed social calendars which require an endless stream of new outfits, which they’re happy to share on social media. But lockdown placed parties and jet set weekends on hold. If some have-yachts were still living it up, they weren’t about to publicise the fact.

The Fattoincasa collection: Dolce & Gabbana autumn/winter 20 Credit: Monica Feudi

Yet even confined to home, some clients continued to place orders – for the duo’s signature silk pyjamas, kaftans and florals – uplifting, luxurious but comfortable clothes, like those in The Blooming Collection, featured here. As markets in Asia began to re-open, their new Devotion Bag proved a best seller (a percentage of sales go to Italy’s Humanitas University to help fund research for a coronavirus vaccine).

So people haven’t lost their appetite for investment fashion. “When we closed the doors on our boutiques, our first reaction was shock,” says Stefano Gabbana. “It felt like a total disaster”. But within a week, they were reorganising some of their factories to observe social distancing rules and installing Plexiglas screens. Others had been turned over to PPE production. There’s no way they’ll be able to produce the amount of garments they’d forecast at the start of the year, even assuming demand returns to pre-Covid levels.

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana with a model at their Alta Moda show in 2014 Credit: Dolce & Gabbana

“In some ways it’s like when we first started this company more than 30 years ago,” continues Gabbana. “We did everything ourselves then, including cleaning the offices.”

In other ways it’s very different. They’re now one of the world’s most successful fashion brands – sales in 2018 hit €1.3 billion (£1.15  billion), and the company is still privately owned by the designers who have commensurate lifestyles. Gabbana had just arrived for a holiday at his home in Antigua when lockdown happened. “I can’t pretend it was like a prison, but after six weeks it had its challenges,” he says.

The Blooming collection from Dolce & Gabbana Credit: Dolce & Gabbana

The two designers Skyped daily, sharing sketches and trading ideas. As soon as he was able, Gabbana returned to Milan. What became apparent was that after the initial “freakout” as Gabbana puts it, “style at home became very important”. Craft has always been an important part of the brand’s DNA. With uncanny timing, the winter 2020 collection they showed in February featured an array of luxurious pieces that had been knitted by an army of at-home knitters, a number of them grandmothers.

Now that a large proportion of their winter collection won’t get manufactured, those made at home cardigans and dresses will form a much larger proportion of their collection than originally anticipated. What began as an idea to support Italy’s many independent artisans may turn out to be a lifeline to the company.

Credit: Dolce & Gabbana

The irony is not lost on them. “In a strange way, this has made us think more like humans again, and less like designers,” they say. A fortnight ago, they launched the DGFattoincasa (DG made at home) initiative on their digital platforms, encouraging followers not to buy, but to get crafty in their own spaces, both as a calming activity, and as a way of connecting with others.

“You can’t just make fashion for fashion’s sake,” says Gabbana. “We’re now constantly asking ourselves what social life will look like in the coming months. If you can’t go to the theatre or a big party, and supper in a restaurant means a plastic screen between you and the next table, you don’t need to wear something flamboyant.”

Credit: Dolce & Gabbana

Ultimately, even if only a fraction of their 5,500 global employees is back at work, their message is optimistic.

“We have to focus on protecting livelihoods as much as possible. We keep on working, and because we’re Catholics, praying to God, crossing our fingers and trusting in the power of creativity.”

The Blooming Collection is available now on Dolce & Gabbana

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