As the curtain comes down on the three-day extravaganza that is the Dolce & Gabbana couture shows in New York, it is difficult to know how to describe such a spectacle. Words such as lavish, beautiful, rich, spectacular and opulent are not sufficient to do it justice. Dolce & Gabbana couture is all of those things, and more. It is a celebration of life, love and the arts.
Months in the planning, the couture shows are a twice-yearly event where designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana give full flight to their imaginations, creating one-of-a-kind pieces of high jewellery (Alta Gioielleria), men’s couture (Alta Sartoria) and women’s couture (Alta Moda). Unfettered by price or practicality, this is about creating pieces that are essentially works of art. Available only to the very richest of clients, this is not a mumbled discourse on chic, but an ebullient salute to life.
As Dolce notes before the men’s show, gesturing around him: “Life is beautiful.” Couture is an extremely exclusive club – at most a few hundred souls worldwide can afford it. And watching Dolce and Gabbana move through the crowd, greeting each client with what feels like genuine affection, it becomes clear that this is about more than clothes.
Normally held in Italy – a source of endless inspiration for the designers – last week, for the first time, the whole event left its native shores for New York. “This all began when Catherine Miller [of The Met Opera] invited us to the opera house,” Gabbana explains. “She came to Palermo [for the summer 2017 couture show] and asked us why we don’t come to New York. We thought it was an impossible dream, but here we are. We are very proud. We are inspired by the city of New York,” he adds. “But we see it through Italian eyes.”
The three-day event began at the New York Public Library with the Alta Gioielleria show, which was hosted by actress Sarah Jessica Parker (who also modelled some of the jewels), before moving to the fabled Rainbow Room of the Rockefeller Centre for the presentation of the men’s Alta Sartoria collection. Serenaded from the stage by the legendary Liza Minnelli (whose father hailed from Dolce’s hometown), the models walked through the audience, led by David Gandy. As the 103 looks swept past, never had the lyrics to Money, from the musical Cabaret, felt more apt. Minnelli even purred, “Gee, you boys look swell”, between songs.
Inspired by the city below, the collection was filled with familiar elements, including street signs and the Statue of Liberty. The art deco curves of the Chrysler and the Empire State buildings were printed onto jackets and fluid silken robes, while the graphic lines of the Flatiron Building and Brooklyn Bridge were seen on shirts and tops (yes, even the super-wealthy dress down sometimes). The heady excess of Studio 54 was captured in crystal-covered suits in white and red, which dazzled like disco balls. In a nod to both the city’s sporting history and the more relaxed style of a new generation of customers, basketball tops came with a glittery sheen, while Yankees baseball shirts were smothered in diamantés, with a bat that sparkled like diamonds drawing a roar of approval from the crowd. No reference was out of bounds for the designers. “We bought a lot of military vintage that we recut and covered in beading,” explains Dolce, holding up a fishtail parka finished that very morning, covered in hand-stitched street signs and lined in duchess satin.
Crocodile leather was carved into robes, trousers and belted jackets so soft they rippled, while velvet smoking jackets swayed with the weight of the dense beading in molten golds. Like sunsets over Central Park, shirts were decked out in deep oranges and purples. As Dolce explained: “We love to show the show at night, because New York is a city that never sleeps.” Surrounded by a view of New York from the 65th floor, we had to agree.
At the very core of the menswear, though, are the suits. “We know we have a lot of power in this,” explains Gabbana. “Men are much slower than women at adopting something new, but when he starts to try our pieces, then he will wear only us. When he starts to wear Dolce & Gabbana jackets and suits, he doesn’t change.”
However, the best was yet to come, with the women’s couture show, Alta Moda, staged inside The Metropolitan Opera House. Outside, Lincoln Square was filled with previous Alta Moda pieces in glass cabinets (a taster of the splendour to come). Inside, actress Isabella Rossellini – wearing a custom-made piece fittingly adorned in sequins to replicate the original poster for Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly – introduced the collection, while clients arrived wearing pieces from previous shows, including one whose train was so long, she had to be helped to her seat.
The designers have a long relationship with the Met. Having first visited in the mid-1990s, the pair returned frequently to attend performances by Luciano Pavarotti, a personal friend. And as the show began and the voice of Pavarotti singing Puccini’s Nessun Dorma filled the space, model Karlie Kloss swept up the stairs wearing a scarlet feathered gown, followed by models who criss-crossed the circular atrium in shimmering pieces echoing the glory days of New York’s roaring 1920s, resplendent in reproductions of the Empire State and the Statue of Liberty. Al Capone-style gangster suits were recut to the female form and densely covered in street names written in handworked beads. The stars and stripes were emblazoned across coats, sleeves and skirts, paired with vast, opera-inspired headpieces that ranged from Madama Butterfly to Lady Liberty herself. Light notes included distressed jeans embroidered with emblems, and sequined minidresses emblazoned with “I Love Met Opera”.
Hijabi model Halima Aden wore a belted smoking jacket covered in roses, while another dress carried a shimmering Brooklyn Bridge, and a coat had Walk/Don’t Walk running down its sleeves. Even a basketball top – replete with hand-applied sequins and flowers sat over a tulle skirt, which called to mind the 1930s, as did tightly tailored masculine tails.
Of course Alta Moda is all about the spectacular gowns, and when they arrived, applause broke out among the audience. Karen Elsen swept past in images of New York’s buildings set over enormous layers of tulle, while the finale was Naomi Campbell in a gown covered in images of New York City by night.
As the pieces swept past, clients started buying – via a secret WhatsApp group, rushing to be the first to get through on the strictly first come, first served basis. After the show, dinner was held on the opera stage, under the set of Franco Zeffirelli’s Turandot (which was astonishing, even by Dolce & Gabbana standards).
After, as the dancing began, the teams of tailors and seamstresses were hard at work, altering purchases so they could be taken home the next day. In the rare instance a piece must be remade, it is delivered within one month. As Dolce says: “Alta Moda and Alta Sartoria are about emotion. If you went to a restaurant, you do not want to be told you can have your food next week. This is the same; this is buy now, see yesterday.”
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