It has become something of a habit for Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana to pay homage to Dolce’s Southern Italian roots with their collections. For spring, they showed panniers that resembled street sellers’ baskets, dresses embellished with prints borrowed from local ceramics, and raffia sacks encasing curvaceous bodies rather than vegetables. So it wasn’t surprising that when it came to shooting the season’s advertising campaign, they headed to Sicily. What was unusual, however, was that for the first time ever, Dolce himself took the photographs, with Gabbana serving as art director.
The designers have employed the services of many big-name fashion photographers in the past, and they are quick to affirm that they will continue to do so. Dolce and Gabbana also stress that their DIY approach was by no means a money-saving exercise—although the day rates commanded by top fashion photographers can easily hit six figures.
“It was Stefano who convinced me I had to shoot the campaign,” says Dolce, who made his debut as a photographer in June 2012 with Campioni, a book of portraits of Italian soccer stars. “I felt a bit hesitant at first, but it allowed us to follow the collection through as much as possible.” The resulting images are not unlike a particularly jubilant family album, complete with resplendent bambinos and matriarchs—plus the designers’ longtime muse Monica Bellucci and the odd model thrown in for good measure.
Dolce and Gabbana are hardly alone in photographing their own campaigns: Reed Krakoff, Hedi Slimane, and Tom Ford also worked behind the lens this season. The move is indicative of the protean abilities required these days of designers—or rather, creative directors, as they are more often known. The image of the tortured artist in a gilded cage making flamboyant illustrations is long gone; the influence of the fashion creator can now be seen in everything from runway soundtracks to the short promotional films, money-spinning scents, and of course, advertising campaigns.
It all started, as so many such things seem to, with Karl Lagerfeld, the archetypal contemporary designer. “I was the first,” Lagerfeld says magisterially, before admitting that, in fact, “Thierry Mugler did it also many years ago.” Lagerfeld’s initial foray into commercial photography sprang from a spat. “The press packs that I distribute at the show used to be done by has-beens or young debutante photographers,” he explains. “One season at Chanel, in 1987, they did three tests, and they were all awful. I said to the director of fashion imagery, ‘I’m very sorry, but that doesn’t work.’ And he said to me, ‘If you’re going to be like that, do it yourself.’ ” So, being Lagerfeld, he borrowed a Hasselblad, hired an assistant, and did just that. “The model Inès de la Fressange was my first victim,” he recalls. “Then we started to do advertising and editorial, and it became its own industry.”