Dolce and Gabbana are considered the inventors of a Mediterranean style that draws its inspiration from the Sicily of Luchino Visconti's 1963 film The Leopard and the women of Italian realism, sensual and austere like Anna Magnani, to whom they dedicated a collection whose key element was the 1940s slip. At the beginning of their career, the designers also turned to Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, and Stefania Sandrelli for inspiration. The Dolce & Gabbana woman is unbiased and brazen, but fearful of God and devoted to church and family, an attitude typical of southern Italian Catholicism. A woman who simultaneously reveals and conceals brassieres and corsets, lace, lingerie, and veils, and who is disturbing in her impetuous sensuality-a provocative woman proud of her body. The designers' models are soft, round, and full-figured. "Dark girls with dark eyes evoke the women of the south-carnal, provocative, yet austere and proud at the same time" (Sozzani, p. 5). At a time when fashion saw women as executives in two-piece suits with padded shoulders, Dolce & Gabbana's first collection included tulle and angora, twin sets in jersey lace, and soft, wide, extravagant skirts. Their favorite materials were crocheted lace, wool, and silk.
They were not looking for a retro look; however, Dolce & Gabbana turned to the past for innovation. The designers remarked, "We want to use the past to project it into the future" (Sozzani, p. 11). And making it modern involved the creative use of fabrics and colors, and the ability to blend various sources of inspiration, primarily those whose origins could be traced to the heterogeneous world of the Mediterranean.
The elements of Italian culture are reinforced through their meticulous attention to their image, and their publicity campaigns have always been handled by the world's finest photographers. Every shot is organized as if it were a film set. Their first campaign was photographed by their friend, the Sicilian photographer Ferdinando Scianna, who, with Dolce and Gabbana, was just getting started in fashion. Besides Scianna, other photographers who have worked with the label include Fabrizio Ferri, Steven Meisel-famous for his pictures of the Italian film star Monica Bellucci and the supermodel Linda Evangelista-Peter Lindbergh, and Helmut Newton.
The journalist Nicoletta Gasperini of Donna, the Italian fashion weekly that gave them their first cover- the model Marpessa photographed by Giovanni Gastel- helped define their image. "We convey to them how we feel and they give us back a mediated image of culture" (Gastel, p. 241).
The turning point in their international success began with their friendship with Madonna. The pop star ordered from their New York showroom a guêpière (corset) made of gemstones and a jacket to wear at Cannes to launch her film Truth or Dare: In Bed with Madonna by Alek Keshishian (1990). Madonna's participation in the 1992 D&G party and runway show publicized their friendship. Shortly after, the singer asked them to design the fifteen hundred costumes for her 1993 "Girlie Show" tour.
Dolce & Gabbana's Mediterranean style is not a rigid framework but the template of an imaginary world through which they draw inspiration. The collection changes for every season, ranging from the baroque to the plastic, from aristocratic to working class, brazen to bourgeois, from animal prints to a cardinal's cloak. In 1994, for example, after producing corsets, girdles, T-shirts, and styles emphasizing breasts and revealing cleavage, Dolce & Gabbana introduced a "Sapphic chic" masculine style for women characterized by short hair slicked down with brilliantine, which was exemplified by one of their earliest fans, Isabella Rossellini. In 2003 for their Milan men's show, they took their inspiration from contemporary soccer stars. The darlings of the Italian and international press, according to Suzy Menkes, a journalist for the International Herald Tribune, the two designers have the ability of being able to mix periods and countries, masculine and feminine looks, fabrics and styles.
Dolce & Gabbana is one of the best examples of the explosion in Italian ready-to-wear that occurred during the mid-1980s. Creativity and versatility, the union of the press and the star system, a range of products and clothing lines, and careful attention to distribution are all elements that contribute to the realization of an integrated system of communication.
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