After the hustle of the Haute Couture shows in Paris there is always one last thing that I wait for. The super exclusive Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda (Haute Couture in Italian) show. Only the 1% of the 1% are are invited to see and attend this exclusive collection. The collection was only for sale to an exclusive list of some of the worlds most exclusive and wealthiest clients.
The Alta Moda line, had it’s start just a mere 4 years ago in the fall of 2012 since
then the cloths sell like hot cakes and has been some what expanded. With that to be considered this clothing has turned into collectors pieces and have somehow elevated it to beyond the height of Haute Couture.
This years setting for the spectacle Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda spring 2016 collection brought to light at La Scala opera house, Milan this year as well through as-always dizzy and well-heeled show, reached its completion on January 31, Sunday. And we are barley catching the glimpse of that opulence, experiencing unknown delights and getting high over it. Yes, we are yet again spellbound.
But to begin at the beginning: The social gathering in the foyer for the Dolce & Gabbana command performance surely couldn’t have been more glittering and dressed up than the entrance scenes made by guests in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. At midday on Sunday morning, women were assembling in full-length evening gowns, trains, fur hats, sparkling hair ornaments, and, in at least two cases, crowns. En masse public sightings of couture clients as lavishly dressed as this are almost as rare as spotting a herd of unicorns in Paris—but here they all were, the high-net-worth individuals, wives and husbands, high rollers, heiresses, and mother-and-daughter pairs, the multigenerational international Dolce & Gabbana fan club magnetized to Milan from the United States, China, Russia, the Middle East, Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan, Singapore, and beyond. The day before, they’d seen the Alta Sartoria collection of bespoke clothes for men, a super smart lure to couples to make a whole weekend of it, a nonstop round of lunches, parties, dancing, and fittings—and with Dolce & Gabbana the only show in town.
But this was the crescendo. The audience sat on gold chairs on the stage, with a full view of the gold and deep red velvet sweep of the auditorium. As the models walked up the aisle of the theater, in unhurried procession, there was a strange sense of both intimacy and high drama. In fashion terms, as always, the eye leapt straight to what it doesn’t ordinarily see, and that was the exceptional dressmaking in black: sculpted black hoods to begin with (something between Catholic mantillas and ’60s space-age couture); tailored skirtsuits with gold buttons on cuffs and flippy gored fishtail hemlines; then a cocktail dress draped to one shoulder; and yet more simple-yet-ineffably sophisticated silhouettes with silvery crystal shoulder straps or the illusion of ’30s-style clips at the waist. (There’s a lot of the languid ’30s beginning to filter through fashion, by the by.)
Singularity is the thing about haute couture. Dolce and Gabbana said that only one of each outfit will be made—a message that meant that the customers in the audience had their fingers on the triggers of their phones, texting their dibs on the looks even before the music swelled to a close. It was, of course, a fantastical performance on every level, yet one underpinned by reality. Back in the workrooms, there is a large landing crowded with dress forms in all shapes and sizes—the mannequins made to the exact measurements of the women who order here.
The house estimates that crowd has now reached 200. That itself is a huge accolade to the two men who began this enterprise as Milanese upstarts in the late ’80s. As they took their bows, wiping away tears, the thunderous applause was the measure of a career pinnacle, and brilliantly well-deserved.
Inside Dolce & Gabbana’s Diamond-Spiked Alta Moda Weekend in Milan
Here’s a fantasy to savor: You are wealthy beyond common comprehension—and far beyond mere lottery-winning daydream. You might own a vast oil field, a huge natural gas concession, or maybe some tech company that the Nasdaq can’t get enough of. Perhaps you are the scion of an immensely wealthy family concern, or a Saudi princess, or a Russian who made economic hay when the Soviet Union collapsed—then got out before the ruble did, too. The details are immaterial. But the bottom line is that your bottom line is outrageously perky. You are the one percent of the one percent. And you like to look good—no, you like to look unique.
So here’s the question: What are you going to wear? For you, the boutiques of Bond Street and Madison are like Gap. Red-carpet clothes are overexposed by actresses who—can you imagine?—get paid to wear them. Even the couture collections in Paris are a touch déclassé, for where’s the mystery in wearing a dress that anyone can see on a Style.com show gallery?
This is an extremely niche (and, it goes without saying, extremely privileged) rationale—socioeconomics demands it—but it does exist. And for the last five seasons, Dolce & Gabbana has served its subscribers with the Alta Moda collections. These began in July 2012 in Taormina, Sicily; continued 12 months later in Venice; and then moved onto Capri in 2014. Those winter collections were interspersed by summer collections, shown in January in Milan immediately after the Paris couture shows. They were born of what seemed at the time the perverse decision to absorb D&G, the commercially successful but—the designers said then—creatively unfulfilling second line into their main ready-to-wear offering. As Domenico Dolce said after their final D&G show in 2011: “We don’t want to be the richest men in the cemetery. We love trends, but we want to stay in our mood, our style. If you appreciate it, I appreciate it.”
Alta Moda is Dolce & Gabbana—Sicily-infused, lace-dripped, Baroque, wantonly Catholic—but on diamond-spiked steroids. A roster that now stands at nearly 200 clients supports a full, freestanding atelier in Milan. Each collection is accompanied by a jewelry offering—also handmade. The manner in which it operates is willfully antiquated, for the sake of fantasy: All communication between client and atelier, for instance, must be handwritten. And instead of a quick in-then-out show, each presentation is staggered over several days to allow appointments and several lunches, dinners, and a closing party—each event an opportunity for clients to wear their pieces as well as to buy more.
Last Friday Dolce & Gabbana presented what aficionados argued afterward that it might be the most sensually overwhelming Alta Moda collection yet. Last July, after Capri, the designers decided to take their inspiration from La Scala—Milan’s 18th-century opera house—and arranged a meeting with its artistic director, Alexander Pereira, in November to ask permission to use the house’s vintage ballet posters as motifs in the collection. More in hope than expectation, Dolce also inquired if there might be any chance of holding their show in the theater—something never done before—because, he said: “If I hadn’t asked the question, it would have kept bothering me.” Pereira agreed, and Gabbana added: “Afterward, I was trying to keep a straight face, but in the car home I was screaming. For us to be here is amazing—like touching the sky with your finger.” The designers said they have both been coming here since they were age 7 or so—Dolce’s regular box is number 17. “La Scala is Italy—it is Verdi, Pavarotti, Toscanini, Rossini, Bolle,” said Dolce. “And it is more than Italy, too—it is Nureyev, it is Callas.”
The show was interwoven with performances from the dancer Roberto Bolle and members of La Scala’s company and school, choreographed by him. The first movement of clothes homaged the attire of ballet: Typically teamed with mink shorts or silk cady trousers and flat, jeweled boots, there was a series of feminized men’s corpetto jackets, in silk brocade or soft alligator, decorated with gemstones and painted leather curlicues that came lined in mink with a silk raffia-effect trim. Slowly, the focus panned from stage to audience. A series of 15 or so black dresses, some cantilevered at the hip, some with eye-ambush detail at the neckline, all sensuous, slunk past. Two dresses, their skirts amplified with golden boning, were one-offs made in silk tulle hand-painted with florals or etched with silver-streaked orbs—vintage fabrics sourced by the Alta Moda team. Those vintage stage bills were used in a finale of tulle fantasy-ballerina gowns. Accessories included mink clutch bags and a pair of shoes handmade of filigreed gold, with what appeared to be a ruby inset in each toe: Each weighed about a pound.
During the show, clients noted the pieces that most caught their eye. And at a lunch of cotoletta alla Milanese afterward held in the foyer of La Scala under the eye of a statue of Rossini, they began to order—via a staff of Alta Moda ambassadors—or made arrangements to view and commission personalized versions. As one client said at that lunch: “What I like is that I know what I buy here is mine, for me only. It is exquisite. And to be here to see it is beautiful, too.”
During the last two years, the Milan Alta Moda shows have ended with a dinner, then a party—typically raucous—and then the guests disperse back to their real (unreal) worlds. This season, however, another 24 hours has been added to the schedule to allow for the Alta project’s newest category: Alta Sartoria.
Held at lunchtime, this is a version of Dolce & Gabbana’s amplified couture, but for men. It came about, said Gabbana, after the husbands, partners, or otherwise significant masculine others of Alta Moda clients began asking for pieces of their own. When one female client from a small nation in Asia bought a gown hand-printed with a re-creation of a Canaletto at the Alta Moda Venice show in 2013, her husband asked for a jacket in the same material—but the designers were initially unable to provide it because they did not have the rights to re-create the painting on a second garment. They got it to him eventually, then decided to create this new masculine Alta venture.
“They have their own style of life,” said Gabbana, “and this allows them to have total creativity in choosing what they want for that life. So this is not just a fashion show: The clients can choose what they want—anything—in any color they want, or material. Or they can ask for something different. It looks grandiose and magnificent, but we are trying to present it with simplicity. We want a simple, friendly relationship with our clients.”
Held in the newly refurbished primo piano of Palazzo Labus, the 16th-century building (refurbished in the 19th century by the studio of Piermarini, which also worked on La Scala) on Corso Venezia that houses the 25-tailor Dolce & Gabbana Sartoria, this men’s collection was barely less extravagant than the women’s that preceded it. Yet it began gently, with a series of classical suiting—often double-breasted, clinically fitted, in canonical patterns, with foulard ties, pocket squares, and floral buttonholes. An astrakhan hat and scarf teamed with a frogged double-breasted overcoat, and shiny pinned slippers augured an acceleration of va-voom: white suiting with cavalry flashed trousers, kaleidoscopically brocaded and pinned evening coats, an outrageous purple-lined evening dressing-gown coat worn with mink mittens. One look starred a fox bomber jacket that Gabbana had originally commissioned for himself—“and it is fantastic, amazing. But when am I going to wear it?” The show eddied to its finale on a tide of reinterpreted evening classics—white tie, shortened tailcoats, tuxedos—with more look-at-me slippers. My favorite looks incorporated the Sartoria’s customizable silk pajamas—one of its strongest-selling categories—into a deeply louche approximation of daywear. The overall emanation was bohemian tsarist gilded by Fabergé. When Domenico Dolce walked the runway afterward, he clutched his head as if to fend off the applause.
Tonight, Palazzo Labus will host the final installment in this two-day, both-gender, entirely immersive wardrobe proposition for the 21st-century supranational superrich. The dress code? “Express Yourself”—which entirely sums up the more-is-more, artisan-realized, quintessential excess of this entirely atypical fashion project.