Reviewing a Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda collection is a curious exercise; while fashion shows are typically directed towards editors and buyers, at these weekend-long extravaganzas we play second fiddle to their phenomenally wealthy client base, and the occasions themselves bear more similarity to Disneyland than they do traditional runway settings. Case in point: upon arrival at the venue for this season’s presentation – a breathtakingly romantic villa situated aside Lake Como’s picturesque vista – there were habit-wearing nuns and mustachioed men serving coupes of champagne, a costumed orchestra and a lawn lit with hundreds of tiny candles.
There were guests wearing the sorts of splendid outfits you never think you’ll see outside a fashion shoot (one woman’s gown, an enormous feathered number, must have cost hundreds of thousands of Euros when she purchased it last season in New York); kids decked out in full-look D&G childrenswear; more ornately encrusted accessories than you could count. The woman I sat next to said that she hadn’t missed a summer show in six years and, throughout the show, instead of publishing the photos she took on Instagram, she was sending them direct to Dolce to place orders. She completely circumvents the system we’ve established in this industry – and, while she renders my role fairly redundant, she made for brilliantly refreshing company.
But for those who didn’t fly themselves in to observe the spectacle and shop up a storm, here’s the cheat sheet: this was true-to-form Dolce & Gabbana; overblown opulence at its best. The starting point for the collection was The Betrothed, a 19th century novel by Alessandro Manzoni that is broadly considered to have established the foundations of modern Italian (a costumed Manzoni was on-hand throughout the evening signing copies of the book with a quill – see, Disneyland). The Betrothed is set in Lake Como, and its two protagonists – star-crossed lovers separated by nuns and thugs (those people serving champagne) – clearly offered inspiration for the opening looks, which were equal parts hyper feminine (flouncing gowns), and strictly sartorial (topstitched tuxedos).
But Dolce & Gabbana aren’t too fussed with sticking to the script when it comes to artistic narrative, and quickly the collection evolved into something else entirely: a whistle-stop tour of bohemia through the ages, inspired by the sorts of European aristos who would once have taken Grand Tours through this area. Think: Great Gatsby numbers worn with flapper headdresses and long cigarette holders; seventies Broderie lace sparkling with beaded cut-outs; Peggy Guggenheim silhouettes with matching oversized glasses. Monied eccentricity is a playground for the extraordinary craftsmanship that goes into these collections – and, considering their audience, makes perfect sense.
But then there was more! Around 100 looks in, a series of theatrical gowns appeared, some fully-feathered, some with picture-postcard prints of our surrounds, or accesorised with parasols made of flowers, and the woman next to me went into a near frenzy. Men on scaffolding grabbed buckets of rose petals and threw them into wind machines, covering the finale procession with floral confetti. The designers emerged, all 120 models gathered on the steps of the villa in the most picture-perfect moment imaginable, and the audience rushed towards them to closer inspect the outfits and complete their shopping lists. It is fascinating to see these clothes in this setting; to play witness to the extraordinary exchange that goes on between these designers and their clientele. Ordinarily, couture buyers are kept top secret from us journalists: here, they appear centre stage. Want a selfie with Naomi Campbell, Eva Herzigova or Helena Christensen? The chance to mingle with the men who create these pieces? It’s all happily on offer here.
To close the evening, everyone got on a boat to be ferried en masse to an enormous open-air dinner for all in attendance and, when we docked, we had to walk through a pop-up store before we made it to our tables. People were buying crocodile leather loafers at 11pm; there were majorettes marching through the tables; fireworks displays between courses; an outdoors disco set up all night on the banks of the lake.
The dancefloor was filled with unimaginable wealth: oligarchs and their wives, captains of industry, the sort of people who can drop hundreds of thousands on one-off eveningwear. By the end of the evening, piles of ornately-decorated shoe and handbags, thousands of pounds worth of Dolce, had been left in a pile by the DJ booth to allow their wearers to keep going. You couldn’t make it up. Tomorrow, it will all happen again, for the menswear component of the business, Alta Sartoria. For some, this must be the happiest place on earth. For others, this is just another summer weekend spent inhabiting the world of Dolce & Gabbana.