It is not every day that you get on a plane almost entirely filled with models, make-up artists and hair stylists, yet this is apparently the order of play when Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana take their famously lavish Alta Moda and Alta Sartoria shows to Saudi Arabia's AlUla.
The Italian design duo's answer to haute couture, Alta Moda (for women) and Alta Sartorial (for men) is the ultimate outpouring of their craft, skill and emotion, into handmade, one-of-a-kind looks.
Invited by the Royal Commission for AlUla to take part in the Tantora Festival, the couture show, titled the Ikmah Fashion Fashion Show, presented 58 looks from the Dolce & Gabbana archives, brought to the kingdom from Italy, along with a full atelier of tailors and seamstresses to tend to private fittings for clients in the following days.
As the sunset cast an orange glow over the surrounding sandstone cliffs of Jabil Ikmah, a Unesco World Heritage site famous for its ancient carvings, the show opened with a white gown of diaphanous silk, hand painted with golden rococo swirls over a huge, swishing tulle skirt. Light as air, yet with a train trailing three metres behind, it set the tone for a celebration of an extraordinary world, where a single look takes months to create and price tags are rumoured to run into six figures.
In a shift for the house, the show was not a traditional Alta Moda affair, where new pieces are created especially for the occasion. Instead, as the first ever show of its kind in the kingdom, this was presented as a journey through the astonishing imagination of the designers and an introduction into the remarkable skills of its atelier.
Speaking ahead of the show, Dominico Dolce explained: “We've been working with the Royal Commision For AlUla for a few months, trying to make the most of this collaboration. Participating at the Tantora festival with a fashion show seemed the best way to do it, and the one that best suits us.”
Also on the runway was a huge gown with full skirts, hand painted with violet blossoms, followed by a fringed cape in dense blood red sequins, dotted with pink flowers. Elsewhere, an ethereal column dress, its bodice covered in fragile feathers entirely handpainted in gold, seemed to float in the spotlights.
Men wore gossamer silk tunic tops over loosely tapered trousers, some with hand embroidered foliage trailing down the side of the legs, or trousers seemingly made of tiny, fabric mosaic tiles. Light, elegant shirt and trousers in glossy pink and olive green followed, the last finished with a great silken tassle at the neck. Other men’s looks included a heavy calf-length coat, finished with gold frogging embroidery, echoed in a similarly cut coat made of chevroned beadwork in tones of blue. This was matched with trousers constructed from diagonals of fabric, pieced together with absolute precision.
For women, there was a series of Renaissance-inspired looks that included a lattice of beadwork fashioned into a face veil, a square necked full-skirted dress of beaded silver and a heavy cape, constructed to cocoon the body and paired with an intricate gold headpiece. Despite the cold of the AlUla winter, the overall effect was enchanting, with the elaborate hand work of the looks and headpieces glinting in the lights.
That pieces such as these had never been show on models in public in the Kingdom before, was clearly something the designers were mindful of.
“We intend to do it with respect, passion and a desire to work and learn. We are creative, everything for us is a source of inspiration and research. Saudi Arabia is a wonderful country and we are looking forward to discovering and visiting it,” Dolce said.
Gabbana seconded this view. “Saudi Arabia is an amazing place, rich in history, traditions, culture and wonderful landscapes.
“For us, every project is a challenge we always learn something new and interesting from. We are designers, we design clothes, it is what we know, and being able to do it for all women and men respecting their customs and cultural traditions can only make us happy.”
After the show, Phillip Jones, chief management and marketing officer for the Royal Commission for AlUla seemed delighted that all the hard work had come to fruition.
“Our first fashion show in AlUla was the perfect combination of exquisite elegance and nature,“ he said. In bringing Dolce & Gabbana’s hand-made creations to AlUla, the region's heritage as a centre of culture was reiterated and updated. "AlUla is a cradle of creativity with artistic endeavour stretching back thousands of years – we are now once again a place to welcome and inspire all areas of arts,” said Jones.
With this groundbreaking show, Dolce & Gabbana has achieved something that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable – bringing its distinct, inimitable sense of decadence to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Presented on models all flown in from Italy, the clothes on display were elegant, sophisticated and mindful of the country's sensibilities. While no doubt complex and demanding to achieve, Dolce and Gabbana have shown – once again – why they are at the very top of their game.