There were some who thought Dolce & Gabbana's decision to unveil an abaya and hijab range earlier this year was commercially imprudent. In fact, it was to be an overnight sensation and drew widespread acclaim in the Middle East and abroad. In an exclusive interview with The National, designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana talk about their foray into Arabian apparel and reveal the first glimpse of their upcoming collection, which is due to arrive in the UAE at the end of May.
How long had you considered developing an abaya range before you launched it?
SG: We had created special collections for countries such as Russia, China, Mexico and Brazil, so it was only natural that we also wanted to create something for the women of the Middle East and the Arab community.
DD: We didn't think about this year being a specific time to launch the collection, necessarily. We've just always liked the idea of dressing women from all over the world, and now we had the time to do it. The Dolce & Gabbana brand is now also extensively recognised in the Middle East region, so we could allow ourselves to experiment more there.
What was it about creating abayas specifically that piqued your interest?
SG: Projects like #DGwomenlovemakeup – an initiative in which ordinary women, of all ages, became the face of the brand's beauty range by uploading Instagram images of them wearing it – gave us the opportunity to get closer to our clients. We noticed what women wear in their daily lives, what they liked and what they needed. It is also by looking at these "everyday" images that we started to think about creating collections specific to different markets. It was from this observation that we decided we wanted to create a line of abayas.
DD: We like to take into consideration what the local demand is and, whenever possible, we always try to respond. Therefore, it's always interesting to create lines for a specific market.
Is the line aimed at the region specifically?
DD: No, the collection is not specifically targeted and the range is varied.
SG: In recent weeks, we have also seen our abayas worn like kaftans by women around the world.
Tell us about the creative process behind the first collection.
DD: We tried to revisit local tastes and add our Italian touch, according to the Dolce & Gabbana aesthetics. We mixed the typical codes of our brand like lace and white polka dots. We also integrated key elements of the spring/ summer 2016 collection, like daisies, red roses and lemons.
SG: We thought about the common images linked to the Middle East and we transformed them into nuances and embroideries. For example, the warm colours of the sandy beaches and the desert dunes, the deep colours of the sky, the spicy scents of the souqs and the Arabian palaces with their golden domes and intricate tiles.
What kind of research did you undertake before designing this range?
SG: We carried out a lot of research for this project. We sourced textile samples and we studied many different existing models and styles of abayas. We wanted to make sure that we understood local tastes and, while respecting that, translated the designs through the most iconic elements of our brand. We took the Middle Eastern style and added a touch of "Italianità".
Did you consult women from the Middle East region before embarking upon the line?
DD: Oh, yes of course, we are very respectful of different cultures.
SG: Some of our loyal clients in the region had actually already contacted us in the past to have our stylistic support for these outfits.
Some of your abayas incorporate sheer and transparent elements. Is this the advent of the avant-garde abaya?
DD: It's tough to answer to this. We did this project because we thought it was important to listen to local needs and we always want to make sure our women have got something to wear for every occasion at any time of the day. It is important for us that if one client wants to wear a Dolce & Gabbana outfit, but prefers to opt for modest designs, that she is given the possibility to do so. After all, what we are doing here, is giving the opportunity to buy our brand to whomever wishes to do so. We're adapting to the client's desires, but without compromising on the aesthetics of our brand.
SG: Lace and sheer panels are simply part of our signature, and we have always been quite avant-garde. We have always shaken the fashion world with our designs and perhaps we can also now say we have been consistent with that in the Middle East.
Were you surprised by the instantly positive reaction your maiden collection received globally upon its release?
SG: Yes, we were really not expecting such a huge interest. Our press office had requests from all over the world – from Europe and South Africa to the United States and the Middle East, of course. It became a truly global phenomenon, which made us very happy.
Some labels from the West released copy-cat abayas and jalabiyas on the back of your collection. Is imitation the highest form of flattery?
DD: All I can say is that it happens all the time, to all brands.
SG: When something is significant, it will always be copied. I like to think we shook the waters a little.
Do you have any plans to develop a menswear range of kanduras and ghutras?
DD: We have just created a second abaya and hijab line that will hit the stores in May, so I don't know yet if we will create a line of kanduras and ghutras. But I am not saying no.
Considering you already have a children’s line, where pieces from your womenswear can be found in matching miniature versions, might you consider a younger line of abayas, too?
DD: It's true, we have created a line of evening "Bambina Gowns", so that daughters can match their mother's outfit on special occasions. So, perhaps in the future, we will extend that to the abayas looks, too.
SG: Childrenswear represents a very important category for us. We produce the full set, from the clothes, down to the shoes and bags.
What accessorises can be paired with your abaya range with?
SG: At the moment the range includes some hair accessories, and we have also created a special range of Middle East sandals that can be perfectly matched to the abayas.
What do you make of the fashion you see Emirati ladies wearing when you come to the UAE?
DD: I notice there is quite a lot of black in the Emirati woman's fashion, and that reminds me of some Mediterranean locations like Sicily in Italy.
• Dolce & Gabbana’s new collection of abayas will be available in UAE boutiques from May. To find your nearest store and for more information, visit www.dolcegabbana.com
See more images from the collection here.