How many more old stone steps to climb? Up, up, up we walked, from the Portofino Bay, past Stefano Gabbana’s silver-grey yacht, and through thick greenery with a glimpse of sixteenth-century fortress Castello Brown, covered in twinkling fairy lights.
And now finally, we reach Domenico Dolce’s hilltop house, where there will be an experience of high fashion as midsummer madness.
“I love Shakespeare!” proclaimed Stefano, to explain flowered hoops held by male servers in Tudor dress, while a woman with a harp played “Greensleeves”, and the melody drifted into the sunset.
So this was Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda as a midsummer night’s dream. Uber-wealthy clients, flown or boated in from across the globe, sat around a crazy upside-down tree, which the models walked beside, wearing highly decorated dresses and fresh flowers in their hair.
Clients clinked champagne glasses from the rustic ground, while overhead two acrobats swung like Shakespearean sprite Puck from the trees.
By the time the music of Verdi’s Aida had filled the dusky sky, the show had already lived up to what Stefano described as an experience “between fantasy and reality”.
“The fashion system is more than just labels,” he said, to explain the significance of Alta Moda. “You have to offer a sensation and an emotion – you have to tell a story.
The show was rich in intensely decorated and magical patterns, but also included a wardrobe of sinuous, body-conscious dresses and sleek black tailoring that fulfilled the reality requirements.
In total the designers sent out 94 outfits – an array of fairy-like and magical garments with exceptional decorative handwork.
Interspersed with the tailoring, which brought the show gently down to earth, were taut bodices and voluminous skirts of gowns with prints – maybe of parakeets, or bursting blooms. Fur in offbeat colours from lichen green to dawn pink was worked into the clothing.
The event was one of those moments of enchantment, transporting fashion into a magical world of suspended disbelief, while still resting on a firm art and craft foundation.
As the show ended with the “Egyptian Triumphal March” pouring out, and the design duo took their bow, big spenders were rushing into the house to try on dresses, while their partners sat at dinner tables on the terrace.
Earlier, I had spoken to Stefano on his boat, as it swayed on the Portofino harbour.
“It is very strange doing shows at our houses, but we wanted to share a way of life that the Italians do best,” he said, referring, as I understood it, to the concept of ‘hosting’. The doors to his own house had been thrown open the previous evening for the duo’s high jewellery collection.
I thought about the designers’ desire to stir emotions.
I had felt a sweet, sensual overload as operatic strains soared and the models walked in clothing of such minute details, coupled with big gestures: tiny flowers appliquéd on bodices and splashy prints on crinoline skirts.
Gold was a theme, and it showed in the immense variation of gilded finishings, from crystals to metallic headdresses.
After the presentation I broke house rules and talked, as a journalist, to the clients. They all said the same thing: that they had come for the “experience”, which included a third show the following evening: bespoke menswear, known as Alta Sartoria.
These clients had come from all over the world, with the more flamboyant being Asian or Russian.
Dolce & Gabbana shuttered their lower-priced D&G line in 2011 to focus on ready-to-wear and to elevate Alta Moda.
And the fashion world in general seems to be moving towards two polar opposites: ultra cheap ‘fast fashion’, and couture that is built on handwork and detail. Let’s take the lead from a recent movement in food culture and call this latter approach ‘slow’ fashion.
To produce almost one hundred pieces of such sartorial perfection made this Dolce & Gabbana collection seem out of this world.
Or, as William Shakespeare put it so poetically: “Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.”