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Cartoons on the Catwalk: Dolce & Gabbana’s New Universe

Gianpiero D’Alessandro’s doodles accentuated Dolce & Gabbana’s latest innovative move, as the Italian powerhouse embraced the metaverse at Milan Fashion Week.

Dolce & Gabbana strutted into the metaverse with its Women’s Fall/Winter 2022 Fashion Show on Saturday at Milan Fashion Week.

The iconic Italian high-fashion design house described the spectacle as “on the border between physical and virtual worlds.”

Against a vibrant backdrop of a virtual street, the women’s Fall/Winter collection boasted glossy fabrics and futuristic silhouettes. From boxy sunglasses to coats and dresses, the primary color was “timeless Sicilian black” — with a very noticeable caveat: cartoons, designed by Gianpiero D’Alessandro.

Earlier in the week, co-founders and co-creative directors Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana acknowledged that they were the newest unlikely pair to explore the metaverse.

“Because of our age, we are outsiders,” Domenico, 63, said in Milan, per The Guardian. “The metaverse is for a different generation, but we are curious about it. You have to try and understand what is now.”

Dolce & Gabbana’s embrace of the metaverse is just the latest example of them busting down the door of something they couldn’t yet grasp but appreciated. Milan has served as D&G’s stage to brazenly blend high fashion with everyday trends; combining aspirational fashion with accessible execution. In 2009, D&G raised eyebrows by seating bloggers in the front row during Milan Fashion Week. In 2018, drones modeled handbags down the runway for the brand’s reveal of its Fall/Winter women’s line.

When it came time to take the inevitable leap into the virtual lands unknown, the Italian designers tapped D’Alessandro for his artistic style which is rooted in inclusivity.

The eye-grabbing illustrations printed on black oversized hoodies and tees included a blue, blinged-out bunny wearing an icy D&G chain and sitting on a pile of cash — making the unattainable luxury D&G has embodied for years suddenly feel innocent.

“It was incredible when I saw [the cartoons],” Gianpiero tells Boardroom.

Dolce & Gabbana reached out to Gianpiero — the resident cartoon designer for Justin Bieber’s Drew House — one month ago. “They asked me to be fast because they wanted to present it [on] the catwalk at Milan Fashion Week,” Gianpiero recalls.

Gianpiero has held firm on his adoration for cartoons — he has countless tattoos of iconic characters, such as Bugs Bunny and Pokemon’s Jigglypuff, and the goal for his skin to become a coloring book — so having to create endearing characters from scratch for Dolce & Gabbana on a month’s notice was a cakewalk.

It all came together overnight, so to speak, but the 30-year-old native of Sant’Anastasia, a small village around Naples, had manifested this moment seven years prior.

Gianpiero was a relatively unknown artist at that time — hungry to make a name for himself and years away from catching the eyes of ubiquitous names such as Bieber, Snoop Dogg, and more. He spent his days traveling around Italy and hand-delivering his drawings to influential people. On Nov. 11, 2014, the moment came to introduce himself to Domenico and Stefano, and Gianpiero made the most of it.

Before walking away, he promised them, “One day, we will make a collection together.”

Gianpiero had to wait seven-plus years to be proved right, but this collaboration is right on time.

“[They] just wanted to mix now my style with their fashion brand,” Gianpiero said.

Gianpiero’s cartoons fit in seamlessly on D&G’s virtual runway, and that crossover appeal stretched to the NFT space in December. Gianpiero and his business partner Pasquale “Pavi” D’Avino launched their inBetweeners NFT community, championed by Bieber. Within weeks, it became both A-list popular and extremely profitable. Selling out 10,777 unique teddy bear collectibles, inBetweeners has generated the equivalent of $18.6 million in transactions.

Again ahead of a curve, Dolce & Gabbana sold a nine-piece NFT collection at auction for a then-record $5.7 million (1,885.7 in Ethereum cryptocurrency) last October. D&G re-teamed last week with UNXD to further establish its presence in Web3. Together, they launched the DGFamily community, including three “distinct Boxes” NFTs as well as “digital, physical and experiential benefits that take holders on a journey between real life and the metaverse.”

With the Fall/Winter 2022 runway show, Dolce & Gabbana showcased the epitome of the real world and the metaverse — tangibility and intangibility — harmoniously coexisting. Models cascaded down the physical catwalk doubling as a virtual street, giving the illusion that women anywhere and everywhere — and yes, even avatars in the metaverse — could also be donning the wardrobe.

That is a powerful message for anyone, to see proof that barriers for self-expression need not exist. It was especially poignant for Gianpiero, who often contradicts his surroundings.

Gianpiero watched Dolce & Gabbana’s Milan show — not just as an observer but an integral piece in the collection coming to life — and felt validated. He always found comfort in rebelling against standards in the name of authenticity, but now, his grounded approach has been rewarded by highbrow tastemakers.

Below, Gianpiero shares insight into living out a pipe dream.

Boardroom: You manifested this in 2014. What does this D&G collection say about the power of simply asking for what you want?

Gianpiero: Life is made up of ambitions and dreams, and you need to be patient to see the full picture of your life.  Piece by piece, step by step, we have to fight against time and limits to really achieve what we want.  I have always seen Dolce & Gabbana as an icon of world fashion, and I always thought it would be great to do something together.  I made one of my many dreams come true.  For me, it has even more value because I was able to do everything with my own strength, and that’s it.  Life is a circle.

I saw your Instagram Story after the Milan Fashion Week show ended, saying it’s a miracle that your job is making “drawings of children.” How significant is this moment, for an iconic high-fashion design house to put cartoons on the runway?

It is a very difficult time for the world, for all sectors, and I believe that a little color can only make people smile and cheer their spirits up.  We need colors and emotions.

Have people made fun of you for still loving cartoons and holding dear your childhood passions?

Especially in Italy, it is very difficult to be an artist by profession.  Even more difficult if your job is “making cartoons.” People fail to take this seriously. I have learned not to give weight to the words of others. I answer with facts.

How will this collaboration inspire and elevate the fashion of your inBetweeners clothing?

They are two totally different projects. Here, we talk about high fashion [and] luxury. The inBetweeners [NFT] project will be different, but at the base, there will always be the refinement of colors and joy.

Does this Dolce collection mark the start of you moving more into high fashion — either in the real world or the metaverse?

 It is certainly a very important step.  But I can’t answer this question. For now, I’m still focused on the real world. I’m trying to earn a place in the history of art books in the future.  Obviously, we are developing many projects in the metaverse that run parallel to all the other projects.

See Dolce & Gabbana’s full Fall/Winter 2022 women’s collection here.