“If there is one word for this collection, it's authenticity,” said Stefano Gabbana, as Domenico Dolce nodded in agreement, hours before the unveiling of Dolce & Gabbana's 2023 Alta Moda line in Italy.
And as I watched the collection come to life on the streets of Alberobello in the heart of Puglia, it was clearly a love letter to the southern Italian region.
With a pared-back colour palette of black, white and blush, with occasional splashes of gold, red, violet and blue, the collection is a significant departure from 2022's fantasy and colour-packed demonstration of exuberance, which was unveiled in Sicily last July.
Much more than a runway show, the experience began at the entrance to the town's winding streets.
Those attending walked through Alberobello, meeting townspeople and craftsmen and women, before finally making their way to the piazza at its heart.
Known for its trulli, whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs, Alberobello was a perfect backdrop to the collection, a celebration of Italian fatto a mano (handmade) craftsmanship.
“Ancient crafts are still practised [in Alberobello] with love for fatto a mano, there is nothing artificial about it,” announced a voice-over as the show began.
The first look was of a sheer black gown with a black conical headpiece, inspired by the shape of the Apulian roofs in the background.
What followed was a stream of 86 striking looks. A monochrome colour scheme was prevalent throughout, with floral motifs, and models carrying baskets of bread in lieu of handbags and wearing classic Italian headscarves.
As promised by the designers, there were no sequins or over-the-top use of gemstones.
Instead, there was an abundance of lace, lashings of tulle and stunning structure, care of boning and corsetry.
Two full-skirt silk pieces stood out in particular, printed with a townscape reflective of Alberobello with metallic details.
The show began with townspeople lining the runway, and as it progressed more locals joined the crowd, at one stage bringing a goat and donkey down the path to the runway.
Far from humble, however, the collection featured caped tuxedos, flowing gowns and lingerie-like sheer sultry dresses, worn with thigh-high flat boots or sandals.
Dame Helen Mirren, who had attended the opening night celebrations, was sitting in the front row of the Alta Moda show.
Speaking to The National after the collection had been unveiled, she described the pieces as “magical, transformative,” singling out the use of “structure and corsetry as a highlight of the show”.