The Australian - Wish Magazine
DOLCE & GABBANA
A spectacular show in Milan inspired in part by opera expressed the theatrical pair’s philosophy in lavish style
It’s It’s not every day you get to stand on the stage of Milan’s La Scala, one of the most celebrated opera houses in the world. To be treated to a lunch on the set of the opera Tosca, at tables decorated with roses and clusters of candles, is very much a onceinalifetime experience.
That experience, which followed Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda show in December, seems a lifetime ago in our current climate. Designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana still hold the memories dear, given that the great fashion experiences of recent years are currently on hiatus as the world navigates the COVID19 pandemic.
“It seems to us that years have passed in the meantime, but they are only months,” the designers tell WISH via email. “We must admit we are quite nostalgic when we think to those moments with our dearest people that we miss so much, in the most amazing places in Milan.”
Luxury houses the world over have been creating increasingly extravagant and memorable events and experiences in the past few years, to engage and entertain their toptier VIP clients and select media. Dolce and Gabbana understand theatre better than many, and also how to tap into la dolce vita to showcase all that Italy has to offer. So it was in December, when some 300 guests descended on Milan for four days of indulgence, to celebrate all things alta – the Dolce & Gabbana collections of Alta Moda (high fashion), Alta Sartoria (high tailoring) and Alta Gioielleria (high jewellery).
In fashion terms, this is the Italian equivalent of French haute couture, bespoke items that start in the tens and run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for clients for whom money is no object.
The Alta Gioielleria was the first celebration, held in the Palazzo Clerici, with its famous fresco in the ceremonial hall by artist Giambattista Tiepolo. Clouds hovered overhead, along with angels and warriors, elephants and warhorses. First working our way up staircases decked out in rose trellises, we wandered through rooms set up with mannequins in Dolce & Gabbana’s festive finery; lounging on a chaise longue, playing chess in a corner or set against lavishly swagged curtains, like an inanimate cocktail party ready to burst into life.
The jewels, of course, were spectacular: sparkling necklaces in a rainbow of pearshaped gems, including kunzite, morganite, amethyst and aquamarines; sets with delicate diamond flowers surrounding enormous amethysts; and positively regal arrangements of diamonds and huge “Lagoon” tourmalines. Some pieces can take up to two years to create, as it may take that long to source the right stones from around the world.
In one room, a pianist performed at a grand piano as tophatted male mannequins watched over a table laden with tiers of pastelhued cakes, and bowls filled with pomegranates, oranges and nuts.
As we soon came to realise, no Dolce & Gabbana event is complete without a lavish meal, and so guests were seated to a late supper that included ricotta tortelli with shaved white truffle and rack of veal with champagne sauce. The following day, Dolce and Gabbana were still chuffed from the night before. “We talked this morning, we take a coffee together,” said Gabbana, “and we say yesterday was very good, we make another step forwardard for the jewels compared to the last season. We understand we makeake something more mature.”
“It is like a dream,” added Dolce, referring to the whole alta modaoda experience, which started in 2012; jewellery was launched the followingng year and alta sartoria in 2015. “Alta moda, alta sartoria, is our freedom.”m.”
“We love to discover and to study many different things,” saidaid Gabbana, “because for us, we start this job because we really love it 36 years ago. And we don’t change; we are in the same mood.”
They also love Opera, the name for this Alta Moda collection, basedsed on 12 great Italian operas – hence our arrival at La Scala. Gabbana’sa’s favourite, Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni, and Dolce’s belovedved
Don Carlo, by Giuseppi Verdi, were both in the mix, along with others,ers, including Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, ma, and Verdi’s Rigoletto and Aida.
“Music is very important for our job, because with music you makee a dream,” said Gabbana. “And everyone makes a different dream. We knowow every single opera, but in a very superficial way. With deep study we go in and we start to dream about music – it’s the movement of fabric, it’s the jewels – every one gives to us a sensation.”
And the resulting looks were sensational. We were seated in the boxes of the opera house, the empty seats below skewered by a catwalk that ran atop the centre aisle.
The curtain parted to reveal the set of Tosca, which opened the following night, and would also form the backdrop to the show and our lunch afterwards.
Each section of the show was devoted to one of the operas, flagged at the beginning by a model in a dedicated “opening title” ensemble. Puccini’s Tosca opened, introduced with a red velvet gown embroidered with the title in gold, trimmed with matching feathers.
For Madama Butterfly, a model in a kimonolike robe had the title embroidered on the sleeves, the whole piece covered in flowers and butterflies in beading and appliqué. Models in rich brocade kimonos and
elaborate hheaddresses passed by others in heavily beaded cocktail dresses and militamilitary uniforms, inspired by the tragic EastmeetsWest tale of love and betrayal.b
Rigol et Rigol et to’ s jesters strutted in velvet bloomers and bell trim med tricorn hahats, while Aida was statuesque in a gold circular mesh gown with feather detailing and a matching cape, a heavily embellished sash falling from the hips and a headdress worthy of the Ethiopian princess.
While some of the looks seemed more like costumes – and, to be fair, many would have been made for this show rather than a cocktail party – this level of detail would be lost in a theatrical setting. The designers said that despite being asked to design costumes on a number of occasions, including by La Scala’s director Alexander Pereira, who facilitated this show, it was not something that they aspired to.
“Many times Mr Pereira asks, why we don’t sketch the clothes for the opera?” said Dolce. “We never want to sketch the clothes for the opera because we are not the right people to sketch for La Scala.”
“We are fashion designers,” adds Gabbana. “We think the work in the theatre to make the clothes for the theatre is a completely different approach. And when people ask us, we are a little bit afraid; we say no. We prefer to stay in our own garden.”
With all the models gathered onstage at the end of the show in a magnificent tableau – including children for the first time in an Alta Moda collection – the curtains closed and we awaited a new reveal.
Ten minutes later, they parted once more to reveal the stage dropped to the basement, and in more theatrical trickery it was set with tables and those abundant flower arrangements. Slowly, the stage rotated and rose, everyone watching in awe from their box seats. Ushers quickly edged the catwalk, and Dolce and Gabbana arrived at its farthest end to beckon us, welcoming guests effusively as they trickled down and onto the stage. The following day, it was the men’s moment to shine at the Alta Sartoria show,dubbed Ritratto di Gentiluomo (Portrait of a Gentleman). We were taken to what the designers described as “a small but incredible hidden gem in our Milano… so full of art and wonders” – the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana. It includes the library that first opened in 1609, and the Pinacoteca, a museum housing invaluable artworks, where the Alta Sartoria show took place. Its founder, Cardinal Federico Borromeo, envisioned it as a place of learning, and the library is still filled with leatherbound volumes and illuminated manuscripts, and the museum with an abundance of artwork started by the Cardinal’s own collection.
There are works by Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and Botticelli. Key among these treasures is the Caravaggio painting Basket of Fruit, just one of a number of works Dolce and Gabbana had permission to recreate in fashionable form, in this case as a tapestry cape.
“We take a lot of inspiration from a lot of paintings we have here today,” said Dolce. “We have some clothes with embroidery, with needlepoint, and we have permission to make exactly the same portrait like the Caravaggio, the Bellini, Leonardo.”
Other paintings were rendered in needlework on more contemporary forms; Caprotti’s Saint John the Baptist was stitched into a short, boxy jacket, and Da Vinci’s Portrait of a Musician was embroidered into an ornate gold frame on the front of an emerald sequinned sweater. Silk shirts printed with open books paid homage to the library, birds were painted in gold onto velvet smoking robes, and slimline suits shimmered in metallic brocades of leaves and flowers.
But there was one figure above all that the designers had top of mind. “The most important thing for us today is to think about the Cardinal Borromeo,” said Dolce.
“The feeling of the Cardinal, because he makes everything here for the public, for the people to learn, to know about everything in the world,” added Gabbana. “This is the best message.”
The Cardinal all but made an appearance once more, in the form of a model wearing a scarlet choir dress with capelet.
“We need to eat with the eyes, with the ears,” said Dolce, “the music and the books, the art. This is the best food to go to Paradise. We call this collection Portrait of a Gentiluomo with a vision. We love today for the new man to have the vision about beauty, about art.”
“We think we need to eat beauty to make your life much better,” said Gabbana with a laugh.
They cited the work of portrait artist Giovanni Battista Moroni as a further influence on the collection. “Moroni for us is like the new photographer,” said Dolce. “He painted the most aristocrats here in Milano and all the paintings are incredible, incredible, pictured today for the new gentleman. During this experience we discover Moroni and we are so in love with this elegant coat, this coat with the fur and the painting influences us a lot.”
The models wind through the artfilled rooms where guests are seated. Every now and then you have the good fortune of glimpsing the artwork that sparked a coat or jacket as they come into proximity.
Elegance and opulence go hand in hand in this vision of the modern gentleman, whose greatest quality, according to Dolce, is “wisdom”.
“Everything you see from our end is our experience,” added Gabbana. “We are exactly the reflection, the collection is Domenico and I. You can walk through and you find details – a kind of embroidery, or a new button. It’s all about what we learn in the last six months, and the last six years.”
“And the memories,” said Dolce. “From my experience, when we work on these collections the memory about my father, a tailor, come back.” Those extravagant, memorymaking experiences are currently in hiatus. The most recent alta moda collection was a digital offering in June. (Dolce told Vogue Runway afterwards that he didn’t like this approach: “The fashion show cannot be substituted with something on a screen.”)
In July, Dolce & Gabbana was one of a handful of brands to return to the catwalk to launch their Spring 2021 men’s readytowear collection, with a show that saw a socially distanced front row and was also presented online. Held at the Humanitas University, it allowed the brand to acknowledge its association with the institution, for which it has supported medical scholarships since last year and earlier this year donated to its research into the Coronavirus. It also heralded a return to the official fashion week schedule with the country’s governing fashion body, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana.
At press time, the intention is to go ahead with a women’s readytowear show this month. It might be a while before that previous Alta Moda extravagance can take place again but the designers are looking forward to a time when that can happen, when the world has returned to normal.
“We must remain united, be strong and confident because we will go back to laughing, to live the beauty, the culture, the history and most of all we will hug again.”