Spectacle, luxury and fantasy: Dolce & Gabbana High Fashion bets everything on escapism
In the Sicilian city of Syracuse, in a floodlit Duomo square, Mariah Carey received a volley of flames and cheers on Saturday night when she appeared before the 600 guests at the Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda show accompanied by the two designers. They were dressed in black and the exuberant diva in a mermaid dress printed with colorful tiles: a looks even restrained if we compare it with the regal striped dress with which the actress Helen Mirren had posed minutes before, or with the pants with a flowery train and a golden bodice of the interpreter Sharon Stone. Among the public were unlikely jewels, costumes that shone in the sun and spontaneously posed before the baroque facade of the cathedral. There was even a religious in a bishop’s cassock.
The occasion, the tenth anniversary of Dolce & Gabbana’s haute couture collections, clearly deserved it. Alta Moda is the project that the Italian firm started in 2012 to offer luxury clothing made by hand and made to measure, something even more exclusive than its collections of ready-to-wear, in parades that, in a decade, have landed in the most picturesque destinations in Italy: Portofino, Venice, Capri or Naples. On that first occasion, the setting was Taormina, also in Sicily: 73 outings of splendor gattopardesco and a small audience, especially important clients, but still full of stars (Scarlett Johansson, Monica Bellucci, Laetitia Casta, Naomi Campbell and Isabella Rossellini attended).
“Our customers follow us wherever we go. At the beginning there were only 100, but today there are 750. It is a business and we are proud of it”, said Stefano Gabbana at the press conference on Saturday at noon. Today, Alta Moda has not only grown in quantity —in its new proposal there were more than 100 looks— and turnover; the fashion shows have become multi-day experiences where men’s collections, high jewelery, watches and, on occasion, also houses are also shown.
The parade on Saturday was a return to the origins, to the Italian tradition that supports a good part of the imaginary of these creators: “The sacred, the family, the black”, illustrated Domenico Dolce, and his partner and ex-partner, Stefano Gabbana, interrupted : “Syracuse is the south of the south, it is almost Africa. We love the stone with which it is built, we love the people, we love the culture.”
The show opened with a dancing representation of the Rusticana Cavalry —Opera by Pietro Mascagni that narrates a tragic love in the Sicilian town— carried out by girls dressed entirely in black, like elegant novices, and young men dressed for Sunday, also in black. “Tonight is a celebration of the black,” Dolce warned at the press conference. “My mother always wore black, even her underwear. It is the color of all colors, the color of sensuality”.
I was not lying: in the collection there were long black veils that fell over dresses of chiffon of bright colors; also suggestive widow’s costumes and seamed black stockings, headscarves or long transparent gloves. But that was only the starting point. The collection marked other milestones, such as a pink dress with an enormous puffed shawl, like a great taffeta cloud, or enormous white cherubs—stolen from the facades of neighboring monuments—on the shoulders of a black dress. Various ensembles of long jacket, very short skirt and knee-high boots offered a desirable eighties silhouette (shoulder pads, flowing hair, long legs, stilettos black). We are not talking about museum pieces, but about sexy clothes, ready to be worn by a small but buoyant audience, eager for photogenic, luxury and fantasy.
The luxury business has returned with renewed force after the pandemic, but the collections that Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana showed in Sicily also illustrate something that does not understand class: our need for escapism. “Alta Moda is a laboratory, a laboratory for interpreting our brand,” said Dolce. But, for designers, this is not just fashion but “an experience. You can’t understand it if you don’t know how to appreciate a arancino (typical Sicilian breaded rice dish) or a good wine”. Gabbana intervened again: “That is why it is not a single day. We want to share what Italy means through our artisans”. And his will to dazzle increases every year.
The night before, they had presented the high jewelry and watchmaking collections in showcases inside the Ear of Dionysus, the spectacular cavern that Caravaggio baptized when he visited them in 1608, fleeing from justice. On Sunday, the Alta Sartoria parade was scheduled in the small fishing village of Marzamemi. “What we have learned in these years is that if something is possible, it is not special”, concludes Dolce. “When we want to do something somewhere and they tell us it can’t be done, we work extra hard to make it happen.”
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