One Night Of Couture In Milan
Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman reports from Dolce & Gabbana’s latest couture outing, Alta Moda, this time in Milan
THERE is nothing quite like the Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda experience. When Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce conceived the idea of hosting a series of shows in their Italian homeland – to demonstrate their vision of women and men’s couture and jewellery to an audience primarily of clients rather than press and buyers – I was one of the people who thought they were pretty misguided in this ambition. Who would want to fly to Italy for one brand’s shows when there was the whole razzamatazz of the long-established Paris couture already in existence? Well, wrong.
Now in its fifth year, the Alta Moda has grown clientele and sales, and the duo have more than proved that their idea has legs, and long, expensively clad ones at that. Last night in Milan, the series of warehouses where all the industry behind the sets, costumes and rehearsals for the hugely prestigious performances of La Scala takes place, became instead the set for the latest show. Guests were guided through a series of workrooms where the tables were ready for the next day’s stitching, rails of costumes either completed or being constructed lined room after room, and through an atmospheric billowing smoke could be seen the vast wooden carpentry involved.
Room after room, metal walkway after metal walkway, it was a journey into the heart of La Scala except what we finally reached was something entirely different – the heart of Dolceland. A space lit by a thousand candles accompanied by several thousand crimson roses, and where figures in operatic costume mingled with the invited guests who themselves were in costumes equally fantastic and mainly purchased from an Alta Moda collection.
The divide between the show to come and the cocktail party was slim, and in this it was a replica of the way couture originally functioned. It was not, like the last week in Paris, a time where designers of all kinds could utilise the presence of a large number of industry folk to show pre-collections, presentations, early ready-to-wear and a little couture. The week used to be a focal point where women who could afford to buy couture and who appreciated the whole notion of not only the skills but the lifestyle that accompanied it would gather twice a year in Paris and lunch, party, mix and mingle in a series of events designed to allow them to wear the expensive and bespoke clothes.
My neighbours for this show, which took place next to the opening cocktail party, were a Paraguayan couple, she a pretty blonde woman in full-length gold lace Dolce & Gabbana right down to her gold sandals and he in matching gold brocade tux from the Alta Sartoria collection. They, like many others in the audience, come to meet their fellow devotees as much as to see the collections. The occasion has come to feel like a gathering of a wildly international club, the membership of which extends far outside Europe and America. And it provides a great venue to actually wear the clothes, for where else would your fellows be adorned with pearl headdresses and velvet capes, and wearing corsets and embroidered jackets, or in head-to-toe sequins finished off with fur opera coats?
The show – in the region of 100 outfits – was an opportunity for the pair to show their favourite design ideas, executed to the most extravagant and highly crafted degree. A heavily embroidered mink sleeveless jacket would have been fit for a Tudor, a rose-print pyjama outfit in satin was followed by a gold-sequinned evening coat, its hem trailing behind, the sleeves kimono-style lined in silk.
A few classic black cocktail dresses appeared, their simplicity ramped up several notches paired with an extraordinary theatrical headdress, but in the main this collection was for the woman who had no desire to meld in with a general crowd. If there was any link it was in the roses that could be found everywhere, in sequins, prints, needlepoint and appliqué. They appeared on a beautiful midnight velvet cap-sleeved dress (one of the more sober items on show) and on a yellow plaid skirt. They found their way onto furs and velvets, satins and tapestry. As the final cyclamen outfits wound their way back up the long staircase at the end of the catwalk, Stefano and Domenico arrived to take their bow, but also to join in with the audience and chat and pose for pictures in a mark of the sociability of this occasion.
Dinner later was in yet another vast warehouse space, allowing us to see en route the small maquettes used for decades of designing the operas, like really wonderful miniature theatres of childhood. A fairytale woodland of illuminated trees as table decorations continued the party feel of the occasion and as I left, the dancing had begun, the nightclub was taking off and the guests who had come to Milan to indulge in a few days of Dolce festivities were ready to boogie into the night.