How we met: Dolce & Gabbana

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana The designer Domenico Dolce, 38, was born in Palermo, Sicily, where his father ran a large fashion 'atelier', or factory. At 19 he moved to Milan to study fashion, before landing a job in the same design studios as the Milanese art student Stefano Gabbana (now 35). In 1982 they teamed up to form their own label, which made its debut at the Milan collections three years later. Since then, they have opened 15 Dolce & Gabbana boutiques worldwide, and have signed licens...
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The Independent Culture
DOMENICO DOLCE: I met Stefano when we were both working in another designer's studio in the late Seventies. At the beginning we didn't care about each other at all. I had come to Milan to escape, to change - I liked all the Milanese designers like Armani, for instance, because they were totally different from my Sicilian background. Stefano's life in Milan, his home town, had also been very different from my upbringing.

I was indifferent to Stefano at first. I wasn't interested in working with him; I didn't care about him. I was working on my own things. My desk was surrounded by a library, like a literary barrier, because I don't like to talk to other people when I'm working. I used my books as a shield, all piled up in front of me.

After a year I resigned, and at that time Stefano happened to be looking for a flat to share. Since I had a place and needed someone to split expenses, I said okay. We were working separately as design consultants and were just two young people sharing a flat.

It was really only by chance that we started working together. It was not something we meant to do intentionally. For me, to plan something in advance is like going to jail; and after three years it just happened naturally.

Usually in a partnership you're never free, but with Stefano it worked. It's a good relationship, because we complement each other. When we work, we talk, talk, talk. It's a constant exchange of ideas. Each of us has our own concept, which is usually the opposite of the other's. So we sit and discuss it. Sometimes there is a third idea - which "is" Dolce & Gabbana - and that's the right one.

Our designs are like our children. Some are beautiful, some ugly or stupid, but I love them all. I think Stefano feels the same way.

We sketch apart, but our drawings are often the same. We even surprise ourselves. When I'm shopping, I'll spot a pair of shoes or a mirror or a table and when I tell Stefano, it turns out he'll already have tuned into the same thing.

But actually Stefano and I have almost nothing in common. We look at life from two completely different angles. I am Sicilian and I lived in one small village. My family was very Sicilian in mentality (which Stefano calls old-fashioned); and when I started designing with Stefano, I detested the Sicilian look. I didn't like Sicilian women. I didn't like the pinstripe, the scarf, the chiffon, because all my life I was used to them. It was too much my life. So at first, for instance, I didn't feel comfortable using black hats in our fashion shows because in my culture it signifies something bad: you wear black hats when you're in disgrace.

Stefano kept pushing me. Step by step it was Stefano who brought all this cultural history out of me. He's like my time machine: he triggers off memories and all these images I've buried come rushing back. When Stefano went to Sicily on holiday with me in the early Eighties, we saw this poster for a photography exhibition which was like a jolt. It was an image of a dark-haired Sicilian woman. Nude, except for a black shawl, and photographed paparazzi-style on her terrace. We both stopped in front of this image and at that moment we realised that this was what we were meant to be doing.

So our vision of women is the same: they must be independent and strong. Maybe not classically beautiful, but their passion and strength must come from the soul. Our inspirations, too, we have in common: neo-realist films by directors like Rossellini, Visconti and de Sica. Though maybe I like more intense movies while Stefano prefers comedies.

There is no arguing at home. For instance, I like to cook but I don't like to do the laundry. So Stefano washes the clothes and I cook. It's a good balance. I love very much to change things in the house - if it was up to me, I'd rearrange things every two weeks - but once Stefano puts something in one place it will stay there forever.

Stefano is instinctive and impulsive. I always tell him: "Before you talk, count one, two, three." Stefano doesn't think, it just pops out of his mouth. So a lot of people think Stefano is a little stronzo - a little bit shit. But he is very, very sweet. And very, very romantic. Sometimes his face is like a wall and there is this gruff facade. But inside he is very romantic and tender. He doesn't think so, but it's true. He thinks he's strong.

He reminds me of Bambi, the little deer. People think I'm the timid one, but actually he's more shy. I'm more tranquil and easy-going and I don't feel I'm special.

The thing about Stefano is that he always likes to smile. He wants life to be smiling. I admire him because I am the opposite. And maybe he is what I would like to be.

STEFANO GABBANA: My first visual memory of Domenico is of him looking like a priest. I saw him at a disco and he had this white complexion and was dressed all in black with black pointy shoes. I had just started to work in fashion so I just used to wear secondhand clothes and jeans. It was so strange and unusual for me to see this hip fashion- pack dressed all in black. Now I like Domenico's dress sense. It's cute. I like to tease him that he looks all baggy and soft. And he's funny the way he moves, he walks like a tottering child.

Early in our careers Domenico and I worked in the same design studio. Our desks were facing each other, and I was slightly intimidated by him. He had been working there longer, and in a way he was in charge and represented power to me. He taught me a lot, particularly how to sketch. But there was never a "click", as such, and I never dreamt we would ever work together one day.

Now, though, although we have different tastes and varying working styles, we usually end up at the same point. For example, Domenico likes to be physically present, whereas I might obtain the same result in an indirect way. This is how it works sometimes - we'll both be working on a dress and Domenico will show it to me with long sleeves and ask if I like it. I say: "No." So he gets mad because he doesn't like it when you say no to him. I like it with half-sleeves and Domenico likes it with long. So we'll discuss it over and over. Then eventually, I'll say: "Okay, let's do it long." But in the end it's short.

In this aspect, I am selfish. I want to achieve what I want, no matter what. But Domenico knows when to compromise. It's not that we're being childish or acting like sulky kids. It's a business and we take it seriously. It's just that we each get attached to an idea - and so the struggle begins.

Afterwards, when the struggle is over, I'll have mixed emotions about our clothes. I like them at the first stage when we're designing and fitting them. Then it comes to the fashion show and I almost hate them. After the show, I regard them as old and stale. And then after a year, I love them again.

As far as work goes, the same things tend to make Domenico and I happy or sad. We both love it when we're sketching, but board meetings depress us. We find it draining. And we have the same philosophy when it comes to socialising - it's better to stay out of the fashion milieu. Our favourite thing is to work together, and we're steeped in fashion from morning to night. So when we go out we usually prefer not to talk about it. We have mutual friends and we prefer to talk about books or whatever it is they're doing.

Domenico and I are polar opposites. Everything about him is different from me. For one, he has less hair. And as a character, most people would say I'm harder. But Domenico is actually stricter. You can get more from me, whereas he won't budge. That's the quality I admire most in him: that determination. He knows what he likes and where he wants to go. He is sincere, honest and very sensible.

In general he laughs less than me. And he doesn't want me to laugh too much. When he's working he doesn't want to be distracted, while I look for the ironic side of any situation. After an hour, it's like I need a mental break and Domenico doesn't like it too much. Eventually he'll laugh but after a while he says: "Okay, enough."

Domenico is what he is. He doesn't construct a public persona and he doesn't have any hidden agendas. It's weird, what I don't have, he does.