"We don't feel like foreigners when we are here," says Stefano Gabbana. "We feel at home."
Gabbana is sitting next to Domenico Dolce in a private dining room in Dubai’s One&Only Royal Mirage hotel. The duo are in town to present a special runway show in The Dubai Mall, entitled Day and Night in Italy, and while they admitted to being a little tired when we met them yesterday, they were charming company all the same.
In recent years, the brand has put on a growing number of localised shows – in what they admit is a reaction against an increasingly globalised marketplace where you can walk into a shop in Milan, Tokyo, New York or Dubai, and see and buy exactly the same things. The duo's clients were asking for something different, something new, something special – and Dolce and Gabbana were happy to oblige.
Backstage in Dubai
“We have done shows in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mexico City and New York, because we love to explain to other people who is Dolce and Gabbana. We love to share our style,” Gabbana explains. “But we don’t want to colonise anybody. In every city, we try to mix our DNA with the DNA of the country. And we want to show our respect for the culture of the country.
“We don’t want to replay the same format everywhere,” Gabbana continues. “Absolutely not. The show for Milan is for Milan; the show for New York is for New York; and the show for Dubai is just for Dubai. You cannot see in another place, the same clothes, the same mood, the same things. It is special. And the audience feels it.”
The opening of their flagship store in The Dubai Mall Fashion Avenue extension seemed like a good excuse to do something special for the UAE. “We opened this beautiful store in The Dubai Mall. In fact, it is beyond beautiful. When I saw it for the first time, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It makes me wonder why anyone from Dubai comes to shop in Milan,” Dolce exclaims with a laugh. “It is monumental.”
Gabbana interjects: “It is a cathedral of luxury.”
The Dubai show unfolds to a soundtrack performed by an orchestra from Italy's opera house La Scala, which is juxtaposed with three musicians playing the electronic violin – in what Gabbana refers to as a "contamination of the electronic and the classical". Of the 128 looks that Dolce and Gabbana present, about 50 per cent are created exclusively for this part of the world – an interpretation of Middle Eastern culture through the designers' lens. "It is a tribute to Dubai," says Gabbana.
Accordingly, the designers lengthened their womenswear for the Dubai show. Although the clothes retain the unmistakable mood of Dolce & Gabbana, there are no skin-tight corset dresses and no miniskirts. Instead, this is a collection of gowns, with nothing above the knee.
For women, it seems as if the world is in bloom. Backstage, models sit patiently, having fresh flowers painstakingly fixed into crowns, in a room filled with dresses decked in floral motifs of every description. Flounced dresses sit under demure abayas made of lace and brocade. Some of the abayas have hidden, more sensual features, such as black lace and printed flowers, on their insides. The designers have long been inspired by that mysterious interplay of what is seen and what is concealed.
Heavy floral brocade is cut into a kaftan and worn over a matching full-skirt dress. Familiar shapes and cuts have been reworked; where before there would have been a bare decolletage, now there is a covering of lace and over-the-elbow gloves.
Party pics at the D&G Dubai show
Elsewhere, a D&G stalwart, the silver mesh dress, is now floor-length and fishtailed. A dress with a laced bodice and skirt of layers of fine tulle – a classic D&G silhouette – comes in floral posies. Leopard print, another house favourite, also feels more restrained, more elegant. The one corset dress comes with a floor-length skirt. This is a collection clearly aimed at its UAE audience.
The menswear is more sober, but only slightly. A three-piece suit is carved from jacquard weave, which has golden crowns floating on a black silk background, while trainers have “I heart Dubai” hand-written across the toes. One suit is cut from a shimmering purple brocade with an unmistakable Arabic geometric pattern.
The brand’s other trademarks, including feather details, gold, silver and bejewelled adornments, florals, and crowns and hats, are juxtaposed against ornamental Arabesque motifs. “The culture may be different, or the lifestyle may be different, but all women have the same dream,” claims Gabbana. “All, or at least 99 per cent of women, want to feel like a queen or a princess. They want to feel beautiful.”
Many of the design elements that make an appearance on the Dubai catwalk are also to be found in southern Italy and, as such, are not altogether unfamiliar, says Gabbana. “The south of Italy has similar tastes when it comes to the richness of the clothes: gold, black, burgundy, velvet, brocade, all of these elements. It’s probably because in Sicily, in particular, there has been a big influence from Arabic people from the past. For us, it’s easy to make this; it’s very similar.”
Middle Eastern women even share a certain "look" with their southern Italian counterparts, the duo maintain, from their dark hair and dark skin, to the proportions of their bodies, and even the way they use kohl to line their eyes. For the show, the duo were determined to emulate traditional Middle Eastern make-up. Instead of the usual cat-flick eyeliner and red lip, the look is heavily kohled eyes with lashings of mascara.
Dolce recalls a visit to Palermo in the early 1980s soon after the duo launched their eponymous brand and were still developing their signature style. They came across a poster of a woman wearing a black scarf – it was exceedingly simple, but also beautiful and mysterious. "We saw this picture and said this is what we want to do," says Dolce.
“It was just a mood,” adds Gabbana. But more than 30 years later, that mood, so fitting for this part of the world, prevails on a lavish catwalk in the world’s largest mall.
While many labels doggishly chase fashion trends, Messrs Dolce and Gabbana have instead stayed true to one idea: the powerful woman. “The power of women is huge, around the world,” says Gabbana.
“Mama power,” jokes Dolce. “The mama controls everything. She may be behind the door, but she controls everything.”
Fundamentally, fashion is about freedom, says Gabbana, and the duo clearly relish their own freedom. “We are not in a big multinational company or on the stock market. We can do what we want.
“Most importantly, we don’t want to become the richest men in a cemetery,” he adds. “We work because we really love our job. We don’t care about fashion so much. We care about style. This is our true love.”