At the Milan spring 2010 shows, most designers sent a clear message that they could produce recession-friendly clothes (inconspicuous consumption requires quiet details). But not Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. Fashion's most famous pair raised a middle finger to the economy with impeccably embroidered black and white dinner jackets. The collection, glitzy but classic, represented what Dolce & Gabbana does best: masculine exuberance grounded in traditional Sicilian tailoring. For two decades the "boys of Milan" have exported a modern ideal of la dolce vita—a narrative full of seductive, dark-haired beauties in corsets and virile, olive-skinned men in pinstripe suits. And the fantasy has become a $2 billion global business. On the eve of the 20th anniversary of their menswear line, the icons talk about style, masculinity, and what it's like to work together after a breakup.
Details: A lot of people thought your current collection was over-the-top. Was it?
Domenico Dolce: Our clothes tell people our lives. It's not like I can recount to everyone that today I love black because I see life without colors or that I want everything much slimmer because I feel more restricted. No, people only see that we made embroidered jackets and that there's a recession and maybe we're taking in too much money. Why can't the embroidery say, "We're going to clean up this mess and then reconstruct everything?"
Details: Since your relationship ended, has it been hard to work together?
Stefano Gabbana: Our relationship has always been strange, and it still is because we spend so much time together. We're with each other more often than we are with our boyfriends. In reality, the two of us keep moving ahead together.
Domenico Dolce: True love, friendship, respect never change. We look each other in the eyes and we understand what the other is thinking.
Details: Do you argue?
Stefano Gabbana: All the time, but it's usually over the collection.
Domenico Dolce: We're completely different, but we balance each other. I could never design anything alone. Sometimes, when you see a contrast or a discord in a collection, it's because both Stefano and I wanted ourselves represented in it. We couldn't find a common ground, and neither one of us wanted to acquiesce.
Details: You've been creating men's clothes since 1990—how much have you guys changed in that time?
Domenico Dolce: Twenty years ago it was all about being a businessman and having a wife and children and hiding sentiments. Men seemed frustrated and unhappy. Today, they've been liberated and are much more serene and self-possessed. We're in a world where men have discovered their own identities and discovered it's bello to want to be beautiful, and when I say beautiful, I don't mean blond hair and blue eyes, like me. [Laughs]
Stefano Gabbana: Men like being liked and like taking care of themselves, but not in a narcissistic way—it's not muscles at any cost. They do so with great spontaneity, self-irony, and balance. When it comes to clothes, they love to change their outfits according to the occasion. More than being fashionable, they've developed a sense of style and understand the function of clothes.
Details: How much has the Dolce & Gabbana man changed?
Stefano Gabbana: There has been a natural evolution in the proportions and cuts of the clothes, but at the end of the day he's still sophisticated, Mediterranean, someone who respects his heritage, and, of course, always molto Italiano.
Details: You've dressed David Beckham, Justin Timberlake, and Madonna. Is there anyone you wish you had worked with?
Domenico Dolce: I don't know about work with, but I wish I had been more curious about Michael Jackson—I was always a bigger fan of Prince. But I recently saw the Jackson documentary, and all I could think was what an elegant man he was, elegant on the inside, and polite. He didn't have to demonstrate his power by putting others down or acting hysterically, because he was a true genius and it came from the heart.