Highlights from Dolce & Gabbana's Alta Moda presentation, a love letter to Italy

Italian design duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana celebrated the best of Puglia with a five-day fashion fete

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It's not every day that you see Kim Kardashian, Dame Helen Mirren and Emirati actress Mahira Abdel Aziz walking the streets of the same tiny Italian town.

But it's not every day that Dolce & Gabbana stages its Alta Moda fashion show, held this year in the southern region of Puglia.

More than only one runway presentation, this year, the Italian brand staged a five-day fashion fete, hosted in striking locations across the region.

The highlight, undoubtedly, was day three's Alta Moda show in Alberobello.

Known for its trulli –whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs – the town served as a perfect backdrop to the collection, a celebration of Italian fatto a mano, or handmade craftsmanship.

Ahead of the show, Stefano Gabbana promised an authentically Italian experience, saying “if there is one word for this collection, it's authenticity,” as Domenico Dolce nodded in agreement.

And they certainly delivered.

The experience began at the entrance to the town's winding streets. Guests in attendance walked through Alberobello, meeting townspeople and craftsmen and women. You could stop and snack on freshly baked crunchy taralli bread, talk to women making beaded jewellery and visit small shops selling naturally dyed lace fabric.

After meandering through the town in their Dolce & Gabbana finest, guests made their way down to the piazza at the town's heart.

“If you come to Puglia on holiday, you don’t see Alberobello like this, this authentically,” Gabbana said proudly of the location, after describing the year's work that went into bringing the show to life.

Also on the guest list were American actors Angela Bassett, Fran Drescher, Kerry Washington and James Marsden, as well as British actor Christian Bale, Kris Jenner, Venus Williams, models Alessandra Ambrosio and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Brazilian singer Anitta, plus Norwegian footballer Erling Haaland with his girlfriend Isabel Haugseng Johansen.

The stars sat front row and watched as the fashion house paid tribute to its design duo's home country with a subtle collection – at least by Dolce & Gabbana standards. Gone were the brocade, gemstones and sequins of years before. Instead, there was an abundance of lace, lashings of tulle and stunning structure, care of boning and corsetry.

Models carried baskets of bread instead of handbags, and dresses were adorned with floral motifs and printed with Apulian townscapes. Most striking, perhaps, were the woven conical headpieces in black and white, which echoed the trulli roofs of the town in the background.

“We asked the people of Alberobello if they want to work with us, to show the real Puglia,” said Gabbana. “They said yes of course; no one said no.”

“It's a rustica experience,” Dolce said ahead of the show, adding it was the “most authentic Alta Moda collection to date”.

This was clearly a presentation with Italian values at heart. Whether involved in the show, watching from their balconies or lining the runway, the people of Alberobello were incorporated into the evening. As the show progressed, more townspeople made their way behind the runway, carrying instruments and fresh produce, or accompanied by farm animals such as donkeys and goats.

Far from humble, however, the collection featured caped tuxedos, flowing gowns and sheer sultry dresses, worn with thigh-high flat boots or sandals. There were also metallic flashes of gold and silver that caught the light of the sun as it set behind the square.

Speaking to The National, Mirren, who was wearing a flowing gown by the Italian brand, reflected on the show with enthusiasm, describing the pieces as "magical" and "transformative", singling out the use of “structure and corsetry as a highlight”.

After the show wrapped up and the designers took their bow, the star-studded audience walked back through the town to a square at the top of the hill. The likes of Huntington-Whiteley and Ambrosio were seen negotiating the uneven cobbled streets with grace, in towering stilettos and full-length gowns.

At the after-party, classic Apulian orecchiette pasta was served, and we watched as Washington and Williams queued for their own plates of the hearty dish.

A night in the White City

The following night, all eyes were on the men at the Alta Sartoria show. Set in another Apulian town, this time fashion’s finest ventured to Ostuni, better known as the White City.

Chosen for its stunning white and cream backdrop, the hilltop town glowed pink and orange as the show began at sunset.

In line with the town's colour scheme, the collection had a distinctly neutral tone, with a palette of white, cream, beige and brown, with splashes of classic Dolce & Gabbana black and a metallic thread throughout.

Following a colourful horse parade, the models walked in one-of-a-kind suits cut from fabric from corredo, or bridal kits.

A southern Italian tradition, as part of which mothers would start preparing the kits when they welcomed a baby girl, the corredo consists of handcrafted white linen and lace tablecloths, nightgowns, bed sheets and napkins, and would be presented to daughters at their wedding.

The linen and lace was used to tailor one-off suits, trouser and shirt sets, robe-like outerwear and vests. Originally the designers had intended to incorporate the richly embroidered fabrics into the Alta Moda show, but changed their minds.

“It’s interesting to see typically Italian female work on men’s clothes,” said Gabbana of their design decision, with Dolce adding that the models were wearing “pieces of history”.

Also seen was statement corsetry with a ceramic feel, crafted from 3D pieces of plastic made to reflect the ceramics of Grottaglie, originally from Ostuni.

“It’s very baroque, so it’s very Dolce & Gabbana,” said Gabbana.

Apulian green gold

Ahead of the Alta Moda show was the Alta Gioielleria presentation, held in a centuries-old fort, surrounded by olive trees that date back 4,000 years.

We speak to Apulian tour guide and taxi driver Giuseppe Selicato-Pino ahead of the presentation, and he explained the significance of olive trees for Puglia.

“There are 58 million Italians in Italy and 60 million olive trees in Puglia,” he said. “Olive trees are Puglia.”

The Alta Gioielleria collection was presented at Spazio Ulivi Pettolecchia, with a driveway that is home to some of the oldest olive trees in Puglia – “from before Christ, the Romans or the Turks,” Selicato-Pino tells me.

For the collection, the designers were inspired by the olive tree and “green gold” olive oil. Shades of green are seen throughout, on pavé-set tourmaline stones that resemble the fruit, and necklaces that end in branches with leaves with large olive-sized stones.

There is significant use of colour throughout the collection, with tanzanites, yellow and blue sapphires, diamonds, amethysts, emeralds, peridots, pink tourmalines, spessartines, rhodolite garnets, hessonites and pearls among the precious gems incorporated into the designs.

Each piece tells a story of Italian history, said Vogue's Carol Woolton at the event ahead of the launch of her latest Rizzoli book, Dolce & Gabbana Alta Gioielleria: Master Pieces of High Jewellery.

She described the way the designers have revived Italian crafts and heritage skills for their collection, with everything fatto a mano, passing through up to 10 pairs of hands to create pieces featuring micro mosaic and cameo work.

The long weekend of high-fashion festivities come to an end on Tuesday night with an extravagant closing party. But three months ahead of the brand's 40th anniversary in September, you can't help but feel the design duo have more celebrations up their sleeve.

“You never know with Domenico,” Gabbana coyly joked when asked about their plans for later this year. To which Dolce riposted: “Maybe D&G in space.”

And while it may not be a literal direction for the brand, it is certainly a space to watch.

Updated: July 12, 2023, 4:29 AM