Hail storms and Helen Mirren: five key moments from Dolce & Gabbana's Alta Moda shows

As well as its women's and men's presentations, the design duo launched a dedicated homeware collection in Venice this week

Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda events have always been fundamentally celebratory. Since launching in 2012 as the brand’s distinctly Italian answer to Paris’s haute couture, the annual multi-day events have combined womenswear, menswear and jewellery shows in select destinations across Italy, bringing together VIP clients, celebrities and select press for a celebration of Italian craftsmanship, fashion and food.

The events are a spirited, fantastical, deeply sociable incarnation of the Dolce & Gabbana universe. They are an opportunity for the design duo to explore and showcase various regions of the country that have so inspired them, but are also a chance for them to reinforce the idea of family, a bedrock of the D&G DNA. To attend an Alta Moda event is to become, even for only a few days, part of the Dolce-Gabbana clan.

Buoyed by the energy of their audience, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana clearly delight in bringing people together, so this week, as Alta Moda events unfolded across Venice, that celebratory feel was amplified ad infinitum.

Eighteen months into the pandemic, having presented the 2020 Alta Moda collections digitally, there was a palpable sense of both excitement and relief. The Venice affair was imbued with symbolism – a grand announcement that big fashion events are back on the agenda, and that Dolce and Gabbana are back in their element.

“Alta Moda is not just clothes – it is a style of living, it is people, it is a sense of community,” Dolce declared during a press conference before the unveiling of the women’s collection, which, he said, represented “a rebirth of Alta Moda”.

This sense of new beginnings was reflected by the models on the runway, six of whom were making their modelling debut. Also walking were the daughters of Heidi Klum, P Diddy and Monica Bellucci, representing “a new generation, a new life, a new attitude”, said Dolce.

Venice was not the initial choice for this season’s Alta Moda events, Gabbana revealed, but pandemic-related travel restrictions and logistical concerns made it the most viable option. And, first choice or not, the City of Bridges offered plenty in the way of inspiration.

“For us, Venice represents the perfect harmony of opposites that attract: it is romantic and sensual, melancholic and joyful, rational and visionary, luminous and nocturnal, sacred and profane, dark and golden,” the designers wrote in their show notes.

In a world that’s been turned “upside down”, positive creative energy is essential, Dolce continued. And perspectives have changed. “You appreciate things much more than before,” Gabbana said.

Dazzling womenswear

Tourists in Venice were greeted with a new, unexpected attraction last weekend. As they ambled through Piazza San Marco towards the Marciana Library and the Doge’s Palace, they were confronted with a runway extending out towards the water across Piazzetta San Marco.

Historically, this was a setting for diplomatic receptions and the location of the most visually arresting parades and most daring acrobatics during the Carnival of Venice. Even the designers were surprised that their request to hold a show on this hallowed ground was granted. “When we asked, we were shocked; in the end the answer was yes,” Dolce revealed.

Models arrived quayside aboard gondolas, that most enduring symbol of Venice, decked in designs that paid tribute to the city in myriad ways.

The colour palette drew on the rich emerald tones of Venetian glassware; shoes came with charming heels in the shape of miniature goblets; and short dresses mimicked the shape of glasses turned upside down, with fitted bodices and bulbous skirts. Or they were covered in tiny glass flowers, like wearable Murano chandeliers that tinkled softly as the models moved.

The city’s rich architecture also informed the designs. The mosaics and decorative features found in the city’s historic buildings were translated into intricate embroideries and beadwork; the dome of Saint Mark’s Basilica was reimagined as oversized sleeves on a bolero jacket, while Venice’s canals and gondolas, and famous landmarks such as the spire of San Giorgio Maggiore, were reproduced in sequins on long, flowing dresses.

Satin was used to capture the movement of water in the lagoon, and a floor-length leopard-print cape was paired with a bedazzled Venetian carnival mask to give a house signature a fresh feel.

Rain on the runway

In what might, by more literary-minded spectators, have been seen as pathetic fallacy, the weather took a dramatic turn as Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Sartoria show came to a conclusion. Hailstones began falling from the sky, followed by a deluge that drenched the show’s models and well-heeled audience.

It was an added element of drama for a presentation that was already heavy on spectacle. Amid the austere surrounds of the Arsenal, a huge port and military complex consisting of shipyards and workshops covering a 19-hectare expanse on the north-eastern edge of the city, Dolce & Gabbana erected a runway on the water.

As the skies darkened and were reflected across the mirrored surface of the floating catwalk, models emerged in glistening suits of white and silver, and floor-length capes depicting traditional Venetian scenes, including gondolas, the Rialto Bridge and the Lion of Venice.

Tops were crafted from delicate chain mail, came in stunning shades of pale yellow and blush pink, and had necklines that were low, loose and louche. But it was the shimmering suits in raspberry, luminescent orange and gentle chartreuse that stole the show, standing out beautifully against the watery, increasingly forbidding, backdrop.

As Dolce and Gabbana came out for their final bow, the heavens opened. And in the heart of Venice’s shipbuilding industry, where boats have been crafted and repaired since the beginning of the 12th century, the duo, with a little help from Mother Nature, brought to a close a show that will invariably go down in fashion history.

The stars align

Dolce & Gabbana’s star appeal was reiterated by the celebrity-ridden guest list for this year’s Alta Moda shows. The womenswear event was preceded by a breathtaking rendition of Nessun Dorma by Jennifer Hudson, who was a vision in gold.

She was watched by Jennifer Lopez, looking resplendent in a voluminous embroidered cape and matching crown, and Helen Mirren, among countless other celebrities, including brand ambassador Lady Kitty Spencer, Ciara, P Diddy, whose three daughters walked in the show, Kourtney Kardashian and mother Kris Jenner, Megan Thee Stallion, Bebe Rexha, Doja Cat and Vin Diesel. It was a melange of names, representing all corners of the celebrity spectrum, that served to highlight the brand’s continued appeal, and its efforts to reach out to new, more diverse audiences.

“People think that Alta Moda is for old ladies,” Dolce quipped. “But we are showing that it is also for younger women. Alta Moda is not just about being expensive – it is a way of life.”

Venice unlocked

Since they made their runway debut in 1985, Dolce and Gabbana have focused on capturing the essence of Italy in their designs. This is particularly true of the Alta Moda, Alta Sartoria and Alta Gioielleria collections, which hone in on specific regions and present a vibrant ode to these parts of Italy. Presented everywhere from Taormina and Milan to Capri, Portofino, Palermo and Lake Como, the collections act as a sartorial road map of Italy.

For 2021, Venice stepped into the spotlight once again. As part of its Alta Moda presentations, the design duo invite guests to journey through their chosen city, offering unfettered access to hidden corners that might not normally be open to the public.

This was the case for last weekend’s Alta Gioielleria presentation, which was unveiled in a fresco-covered room at the top of the Doge's Palace, or Palazzo Ducale. As the private residence of the Doge until the fall of the republic in 1797, the palace, with its pink marble facade and sumptuous loggia, is a time-honoured symbol of Venetian history and culture.

The first part of the high-jewellery collection was presented in the room where the Doge, as well as members of various other administrative bodies, were elected by the Great Council. Against the backdrop of Tintoretto’s Paradise (1518-1594), the largest painting on canvas in the world, the jewels told the story of Venice, in gems.

Watch faces were encircled by enamel rose petals, crowned faces stared out from oversized rings and drop earrings contained miniature portraits of Venetian landmarks or recreations of historic mosaics. Skulls, butterflies and Venetian glass goblets vied for space, while a tiny gondolier formed the centrepiece of a gem-laden necklace.

The second part of the collection was unveiled in a secret room at the back of the palace that is generally off limits to the public, and consisted predominantly of eye-catching diamonds that appeared to float, unfettered, in their glass display cases.

At home with D&G

The Alta Moda universe was expanded last weekend with the launch of a dedicated Dolce & Gabbana Home collection. Created in collaboration with Luxury Living, the new line, which includes furniture and smaller home accessories, has been developed around four of the brand’s best-known themes: Leo, Zebra, Mediterranean Blue and Carretto, meaning Dolce & Gabbana fans can enjoy the duo’s most recognisable style signatures as part of their daily lives.

The pieces build on the brand’s commitment to Italian craftsmanship, now explored in object form. From enormous glass chandeliers to colourful sideboards, bold tableware and Smeg fridges emblazoned with folkloric motifs, the collection is unapologetically in your face, but also uplifting and joyous – a much-needed injection of colour in dark and uncertain times.

The range is the result of collaborations with some of Italy’s leading craftspeople, including Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua, Barovier & Toso, Mian, iDogi, Venini, Orsoni, Barbini and Salviati. It features Murano glass-blowing, hand-painted Sicilian ceramics, straw-weaving, woodcarving and intarsia, as well as lush brocades and precious velvets produced on traditional looms.

For Dolce, this was a chance to revive a thwarted he dream, he joked. “In reality, when I studied in Sicily, I wanted to be an architect. Then I changed direction and studied fashion, and I’m frustrated! Now, finally …”

At a press conference to launch the collection, the duo also joked about how different they are in terms of their own interior aesthetics, making it all the more remarkable that they were able to align on this new home category.

“We are very different,” Stefano explained. “Domenico changes his house every six months. I am more bohemian – I love to collect things from all over the world, on my trips. If you come to my house, you’ll find many different pieces. He is more design-focused than me.

“I mix everything. I might use a dish from the 18th century that I found in Istanbul, mixed with Fornasetti, or I’ll have something very cheap, which I’ll mix with a very expensive, important piece.”

Updated: September 2nd 2021, 7:28 AM
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