Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are sitting in the gilded and plush red velvet interior of La Scala — Milan’s opera house — recalling an early encounter with the operatic world.
“Luciano Pavarotti was cooking for us at home,” said the duo, speaking together, one describing the vast bowl of spaghetti with mushrooms, the other the offer of tiramisu plus an entire tub of Häagen-Dazs ice-cream for each person. And, of course, a glass of wine. Because this was, said Domenico, for a 9am breakfast with the Maestro!
Too much is never enough at Dolce & Gabbana. And you could not get away from high opera and high drama during the Alta Moda and Alta Sartoria shows over D&G’s Milanese long weekend.
First came the women’s collection in La Scala’s vast workshops, the Laboratori-atelier Ansaldo, where guests walked through the onetime metalworks, past historical costumes, doll-size maquettes of stage sets and mighty furnishings. Here was a chance for clients to take selfies in fake topiary, climb statuesque carved ponies or take cocktails from groaning tables so rich in colour and texture that they might have been painted by Caravaggio.
Then came the show: the models walking their way down the flower-strewn stairway, past the marble Grecian goddess, the gilded horse, and the live pianist. These global private clients, tense with the knowledge that fashion creations such as ermine sweat-tops, hand-painted jeans or a ball gown smothered in rose prints were couture one-offs, rushed to choose strategic seats. Let the catfight (including a pitch for Stefano’s kitten-embroidered dresses) begin!
The menswear version of operatic glamour, which was moved this season from the D&G premises to the stage of La Scala, created almost as much tension. The male models were offered similar fashion codes as the females: sporty bravado in colourful sweat-tops — or shapely tailoring tracing the figure. This high-drama scenario offered music notes as decoration, and a backdrop of digitised Verdi scores from La Scala’s original programmes.
Ah! Giuseppe Verdi! The hero of the season for Stefano and Domenico and of the city itself. At the Grand Hotel et de Milan, I was shown the room where the maestro lived and died; in his day, Milanese locals would lay hay on the street outside to reduce the noisy clip-clop of the horse-drawn carriages.
And there in the bowels of the Pinacoteca di Brera, the noble building that serves as an Academy of Fine Arts, science institute, museum and storage, I got to the soul of the D&G inspiration: the historic Ricordi Archives, which document all the Verdi scores, from Simon Boccanegra to La Traviata.
“We love Puccini, but Verdi truly expresses the Italian spirit; the joy and anguish, the drama and smiles,” the designers said. “There is an incredible treasure stored within these archives. For many years, the secular talents of Italians working in the arts have been neglected. But in recent years, there has been a real revival.”
The menswear was the most controlled: faint drum notes of the artillery in a red velvet cape; or Verdi’s face worked as a pattern into a fur sweater. The tailoring may have referred to the past in the perfect presentation of double-breasted suits, yet the simplicity built on cut and craft was impressively modern. There seems to be a D&G penchant for fancy robes, which are familiar, although perhaps these garments are de rigeur when you have Maharajas and Russian potentates as your clients.
I judged this interpretation of 19th-century men’s tailoring, as if back in Verdi’s era, as having both panache and modern fashion authority. When a male model swung his black velvet cape and tilted his shiny top hat as he turned on the red carpet, it was visualisation of a musical crescendo.
But there was also a strong streak of modernity — and youth. Hand-painted jeans of a poetic kind would do well as a first couture offering for a daughter of wealthy parents. She will probably borrow from her mother the puffer jacket with sable cuddling the neck. Or even dare to take from mama’s closet a shocking-pink robe swagged with golden curlicues. Or perhaps lend her mom a mini-dress in pink smothered with gold.
Were there too many fancy, gilded dresses? Maybe. But they were offset by tailored simplicity, as in a streamlined three-piece grey suit, black satin pussy-cat bow at the neck and jewels as colourful as red roses in the hair. A tailored jacket, waistcoat, and cropped bellboy pants looked cute, as did the trousers when aligned with a gilded brocade waistcoat and a pheasant hat nesting on the head.
The jewellery open day offered the greatest insight to this world of the one percent. There were women re-visiting with feeling the dresses they had chosen, sighing and dying over embellishments of feathered headpiece or gilded crown.
Then upstairs to the D&G headquarters, with its glass roof and views across Milan. The jewellery sparked in the sunlight, all displayed against a backdrop of Verdi’s scores. Necklaces included bold, colourful stones, framed with gilding; rings with a golden sunburst around the central stone; bracelets in boxes; giant flowers as breast plates; tiny pavés of diamonds shaped into leaves. There was also a grand piano on which a musician played Verdi operas — but of course!
And there in the centre, near the cluster of jewelled cockerels and classic butterflies, were cats — inspired by Stefano Gabbana’s moggies — climbing over the necklace.
The world may be crashing and political warning signs flashing, but for a 300 chosen few, that’s entertainment.