Leaning across a burgundy velvet divan in the leopard-print drawing room of his company’s Milan headquarters, Stefano Gabbana thumbs through a pile of xeroxed images. “This is crazy!” he enthuses, waving one page in the air. “Madonna washing dishes? This will go down in history!”
The designer may be overstating things, but a housewife performing mundane daily chores certainly represents a new identity for the world’s most famous chameleon. And the photograph Gabbana is so excited about is just one of nine black and white Steven Klein shots depicting Madonna in her latest incarnation. The singer-cum-actress can also be seen wielding a broom, peeling vegetables and eating spaghetti with her fingers. Together the images make up Dolce & Gabbana’s spring campaign, which launches worldwide in February.
The overall aesthetic of the ads is old-world Italian—with white lace tablecloths, frilly curtains and plenty of pasta—which was a deliberate choice on the part of the designers. “Twenty-five years ago, when we debuted, we made our mark with a very Italian collection, and for spring we felt the time was right to go back to our roots,” says Domenico Dolce.
Since the fashion duo first met Madonna—who, notwithstanding her Britishisms and flirtations with Latin, Indian and Jewish cultures over the years, is, of course, Italian-American—in 1991, a friendship has developed. Despite that bond, Dolce and Gabbana had long resisted approaching the star about representing their brand. “Strangely enough, there was a sort of fear on our behalf of asking Madonna to do anything businessy,” admits Gabbana. “We thought it could impact our relationship, and Madonna is one of the few people we’re really in awe of.”
This past year, however, the three grew closer—Madonna filmed part of the video for her single “Celebration” at their Milanese runway venue, Metropol; the designers hosted the after-party for her concert in the city; and Dolce and Madonna, whose birthdays are three days apart, had a combined celebration in Portofino in August. Teaming up for an ad campaign felt like a natural next step.
Still, despite all the quality time spent together, the designers retained their aforementioned sense of awe, which came through in the numerous tweets that Gabbana, a prolific social networker of late (he tweets about this interview just nanoseconds after it ends), sent into cyberspace to keep fans in the loop about the campaign’s progress: “I spoke with Steven…next week in NY,” he wrote. And later, “We are at the last shot.” Then, “M, she’s simply beautiful….”
The photographs were taken in a former lay convent in uptown Manhattan. “There are many Italian symbols in the images, ones the whole world recognizes and identifies with,” says Gabbana, pointing to the cross Madonna wears around her neck as well as the brass bed, a typical sight in Sicilian homes. Food imagery also looms large. “It’s healthy and sensual,” says Gabbana. “They say there’s a connection between food and sex.”
Madonna found inspiration in mid-20th-century Italian films.
For inspiration, Madonna, Klein and the designers watched old Italian movies and found themselves particularly drawn to Bellissima, Luchino Visconti’s neorealist 1951 film starring Anna Magnani as a woman desperate to make her young daughter a star. On set, Madonna channeled Magnani’s raw sensuality in a wardrobe of leopard prints, crocheted tops, plunging necklines and a sweet floral skirt, some pieces straight off the spring runway and others customized to suit her taste. “It really didn’t matter that she wanted a black bodysuit instead of a floral one,” says Gabbana. “It’s a question of mood more than the clothes.”
Madonna, who was visited by her children Lourdes and Rocco during the shoot, went into character every time she stepped in front of the lens, according to Gabbana. One photo depicts her staring melancholically into the distance, tears streaming down her cheeks, after reading a letter from a loved one. “She was really crying!” says Gabbana. “It wasn’t fake!”
While in New York, the designers also checked on the progress of Dolce’s new penthouse in Chelsea and embarked on a five-hour shopping marathon to stock up on red and green iPhones, Kiki de Montparnasse sheets and Dean & DeLuca muffins. And on the plane home, as he started to unwind, Gabbana typed one last Twitter blast about the undertaking: “To have Madonna in our campaign is a dream come true.”
Dolce & Gabbana Spring/Summer 2010 advertising campaign photos by Steven Klein