Stefano Gabbana was in a ''lot of pain'' when he split from Domenico Dolce.

The designers - who founded their designer label Dolce & Gabbana in 1985 - had been dating for two decades before they broke up in 2001, and though the end of their romance was hard to deal with at first, they wanted to continue working together because they did not want their brand to ''explode'' and be jeopardised.

Speaking to The Times newspaper, Gabbana, 54, said: ''There was a lot of pain when we split.

''We broke our romantic relationship, but we continued to work together. Even now we can't explain how we did it. But the end of a love affair is not a reason to plant a bomb and explode everything.''

But the creative mastermind has hinted their romance has helped them to have a more ''sophisticated'' work relationship and friendship.

He continued: ''I think we have always had a lot of respect for each other. Before we shared everything, we shared sex. Now it is platonic, and in some way it is more sophisticated.''

The pair met when Gabbana was 19 years old and was keen to break into the fashion industry, even though he claimed he had no idea about the business, and arranged a meeting with Domenico, 50.

Speaking about his career, he said: ''I didn't know anything about it, but I was crazy about Fiorucci.

''I said to him to Domenico, 'How will I recognise you?' He said, ' I am tiny and I dress like a priest. I buy all my clothes at a shop for priests.' I thought, 'This is crazy.' Then when I arrived at the party I saw him immediately all in black except for a dark grey shirt with a dog collar.

''I was not very fashion.

''I was very lucky to meet Domenico. We are so different but we often have the same point of arrival.

''I don't know what it is, but we have it. We fight all the time, but after the fight what we are working on becomes Dolce & Gabbana, not just him, not just me.''

Gabbana believes budding creators should not strive to be in the business if they simply want to be rich.

The creative mastermind added: ''You can't start in fashion because you want to be rich. It has to be because it's what you believe in. Fashion is not business. You can make it into a business, but s doesn't start that way. The customer decides what is good.''