It was a moment of emotion, of tears and cheers worthy of Milan’s grandest opera house, La Scala, as the voice of Maria Callas soared over a stage where the audience sat to watch the Dolce & Gabbana high fashion show.
The lush red and golden interior of the opera house, with its private boxes, rich in history, were replicated in drawings on dresses, along with sketches of Milan’s cathedral, the Duomo.
This show of extraordinary Alta Moda creations — with severe, body-hugging black sheaths, boldly decorated coats and lace dresses offering a glimpse of flesh underneath — was an exceptional moment.
An emotional Alexander Pereira, director of La Scala, said it was the first time the stage of the opera house had been given over to fashion. And between Stefano’s mother — Piera — Middle Eastern potentates, and American and Japanese businesswomen, there was hardly a dry eye in the house.
Then came another surprise. After the audience was led offstage, the curtains closed and then swished open to reveal a change of set: tables set for a celebration lunch.
As I stood in the ornate Royal box with Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana watching this laid-for-lunch stage rise up, I thought it was a neat metaphor for the extraordinary ascent of Dolce & Gabbana as a couture house.
Ever since they shuttered their more populist D&G range in 2011, the duo’s Alta Moda has had an exceptional following of high-net-worth couples. Yes, couples! For a menswear Alta Sartoria collection was also held over the weekend. And a high jewellery collection completed the triptych of events.
“Why wouldn’t we try to open this special world?” Domenico had told me earlier in the day, when I visited the Dolce & Gabbana ateliers, where dedicated, mostly young women were working with clouds of pink tulle or sewing the final gilded embroideries.
“Our goal is style, not fashion,” said Stefano, as he explained that the inspiration for the Alta Moda show was “Biki” (Elvira Leonardi Bouyeure), one of the most famous Italian couturiers from the 1940s to 1960s, and granddaughter of opera composer Giacomo Puccini.
“Biki was a strong, emancipated woman, determined to leave a mark on the history of Alta Moda,” Stefano said.
The mood board of the duo’s inspiration included photographs of Biki as she built her fashion house, dressing high society, including La Callas herself.
But it is now 2016, so the clothes in the show could not be too much like costume. Yet even relatively simple outfits were dressed with exquisite details, from a jewelled necklace hung with diamond-studded scissors to a noble Madame Butterfly headdress.
Who are the clients, how many are there, and where do they come from? The duo is frank about inviting journalists to share an exceptional event — without offering any information about who else is there.
At the atelier, one thing had amazed me as much as the intricate workmanship being done meticulously by hand under crystal chandeliers: the two hundred padded dummies, each with a different hip width and bust size and with hand-written labels of the client’s name tied round the neck.
Speaking discreetly to these unknown, non-celebrity clients at the party Domenico and Stefano held the night before the La Scala event, I found that they came from Hamburg to Hawaii, Delhi to Doha, Moscow to Macau, all sultans of luxury and emperors of unimaginable wealth. Hence the Asian gentleman who walked into the Alta Sartoria men’s show wearing a crown.
Alta Sartoria: Bespoke and Sport
What was the male offering? “We sketched, we turned inspiration into a book, bringing pyjamas and sneakers into the story,” said Domenico, the tailoring expert, who was wearing a silk shirt peppered with prints of miniature tennis rackets.
Stefano had already waved his hand up to the soaring ceiling of their headquarters to show how the neo-classical fresco in almond and dawn-pink shades had been translated into a jacket pattern.
The menswear was a mix of the impeccable tailoring that Domenico inherited from his father — say a black coat where the body undulated under wool cloth — nd the fluidity of satin dressing gowns or even Middle Eastern robes.
I liked the addition of old-world sports clothes for tennis, golf and equestrian events, although golf clubs carried in crocodile bags seemed an extravagance too far.
As with the women’s collection, a book showing Dolce & Gabbana’s inspirations was set on each velvet chair, so that we could see pictures of sportsmanship through history. Another inspiration included early movie stars such as Fred Astaire. Even the bear-hug fur coats on the runway had their origins in images from the 1920s.
The detail was exquisitely realised, right down to a tennis racket with the Dolce name on the handle.
Jewels Good Enough to Eat
It was molto Italiano — a display of Dolce & Gabbana’s high jewellery mixed with fruit and flowers.
Domenico walked me around the 300 pieces, which included vegetables, religious crosses and tiny interpretations of the duo’s craft in the shape of pins made out of gemstones standing spikily in a “cushion” above a watch face.
Exceptional Italian craftsmanship resulted in flamboyant stones that looked like multi-coloured sweeties or reflected historic inspirations, such as painted vistas of Venice.
The most exceptional thing about the Alta Moda weekend events was how many there were; the cornucopia of ideas in three separate areas. Stefano and Domenico have set the bar of couture high.