NEW YORK – Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana unspool politically incorrect opinions with little more than a shrug. They evoke rage and fury on social media. Then they douse the flames with some of the most breathtaking fashion imaginable.
At a time when fast and disposable has become the norm, these designers have opted to go ever more luxurious with fashion meticulously made by hand. And when they brought their glamorous ode to the American dream to the country’s biggest city, it was a version accessible to about one percent of the one-percenters.
In other words, they are the perfect designers for this cultural moment, with all of its fractured politics and infuriating contradictions. Go ahead. Tsk-tsk them. They don’t really care.
At the Metropolitan Opera House last month, golden chairs awaited 350 coddled clients. These clients can sate their personal desires because they are fabulously wealthy. The designers are able to indulge their runway fantasies because they don’t answer to investors. The designers do not refer to these men and women as customers; that sounds so “commercial.” For Dolce & Gabbana, this is art. But make no mistake: This art is for sale.
Alta moda, the Italian iteration of France’s haute couture, is the most opulent and costly form of women’s fashion. Each garment is one-of-a-kind and fitted to a customer’s specific measurements. It is hand-beaded, often with real gemstones.
The opening price point for these frocks? As much as $60,000. Are these incredibly wealthy people paying too much?
“Do you ask the cost of a Michelangelo?” retorts Dolce. “You don’t ask the price. Beauty has no price.”
Dolce, 59, and Gabbana, 56, have known each other for 35 years. Dolce, the son of a tailor in Sicily, taught Gabbana — a fashion-loving graphic designer from a working class family in Milan — how to sketch. They founded their fashion house in 1985 on the romantic imagery and stereotypes of southern Italy: black-clad Sicilian widows, macho Mediterranean men, voluptuous lingerie models, all anchored by the centrality of family, a devotion to Catholicism, the pleasure of food and the beauty of the Italian landscape.
And unlike many fashion lines, Dolce & Gabbana has passed up the profit margins to be found in lower-priced goods. They recently closed their less expensive division, dominated by T-shirts and jeans, and have committed to addressing the unique desires of the few.
This season’s alta moda was a rah-rah, red-white-and-blue love letter to America. While the country itself is riven by questions about what constitutes greatness, the Italian designers still believe in an America as a snow globe of glamour, possibility and freedom.
Freedom is paramount for them, as they often declare as they burrow into controversy after controversy. They’ve been accused of racially insensitive references in their work, such as describing gladiator-style sandals as “slave sandals” and featuring Moorish — or “blackamoor” — imagery in a ready-to-wear collection. In one interview they expressed their belief that “family” should be strictly defined as mother, father and naturally conceived children. They called IVF babies “synthetic” and said they didn’t support the right of gay parents to adopt.
And in his spare time, Gabbana is a one-man cheering squad for Melania Trump. On Instagram, he showers her with thank-yous whenever she wears the company’s clothes — which is often.
He has supported the American first lady while much of the global fashion industry has been diplomatically silent if not actively opposed to the Trump administration. This has made him the target of social-media trolls and boycott threats. The designers responded by producing T-shirts emblazoned with “boycott Dolce & Gabbana” and a video of a mock march.
Gabbana entered the American political fray when he posted a photo of the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago, where the first lady was wearing a black Dolce & Gabbana dress decorated with jeweled bows. His caption made up in heart emoji what it lacked in punctuation: “Melania Trump #DGwoman thank you #madeinitaly “
“I post it because I think it’s a beautiful picture. I’m Italian, so I know nothing about Trump. ... Well, I know something about Trump but it was not a political post,” Gabbana says. “I post Rihanna. I post ordinary guys and women. I post what I like.”
Trump has worn the brand on numerous public occasions. During an official visit to Sicily last year, she donned the brand’s richly embroidered floral coat, valued at $51,500. The designers did not invite Trump to alta moda, however. “She’s the wife of the president and I don’t want to do any mistake,” Gabbana says. “But we’d love to have her.”