The Docle & Gabbana universe is a fantastically gilded place, where women inhabit a noirish version of their lives in glorious widow black or pontiff brocade, with a crown popped insouciantly atop their immaculate heads. And the men are magnificent Victorian hip-hop dandies tossing their velvet capes, or setting off into the riotous night in their silk pyjamas.
I was welcomed into this spectacle of tongue-in-cheek delight on a recent afternoon in the thick of the Milanese winter. Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce, the two playful magicians who conjure this flickering atmosphere of decadent charm, walked us through the finer points of the Alta Moda collection backstage of the ultimate backstage — the expansive workshops of the world’s most beloved opera house, La Scala.
In these huge halls the seamstresses, carpenters, and set designers work on the set and costumes of the operas that have moved the world. What a clever concept to house the dream world of Dolce & Gabbana in the ultimate theatrical workshop — like a play within a play — celebrating the art and artifice that creates the theatrical illusion of reality on the stage.
The Alta Sartoria (men’s show) takes us directly onto the stage of the famous opera house. To be seated here, looking out at the royal box and the velvet-flocked opera house, is beyond surreal. As the opening strains of Verdi’s La Traviata start up I find myself moved to tears.
Earlier that day I had spent time in the suite the maestro had lived and died in at the Grand Hotel et de Milan, and visited the Riccordi archive to see his original scores and drawings. I feel immersed in the maestro’s world, which makes perfect sense, as the designers wanted to celebrate the great Milanese in this collection. References to all his operas abound in the dresses, the suits in character tropes, and even typography on the sweat shirts from the original posters.
The most interesting and inventive interpretation is in the Alta Gioalleria collection — fine jewellery and watches that play on the Verdi theme in unexpected ways. This collection clearly touches a whimsical chord with the fabulous clients, who appear to be an eclectic collection of incredibly wealthy people with an abiding passion for high fashion, as imagined by Dolce & Gabbana.
As we admire the artisanal techniques, such as filigree and enamelling, that are being given a lease of life in this collection, not to mention the wonderful precious stones, one of the clients is escorted into the space. She is dressed in a magnificent kimono and a headpiece featuring a teddy bear — just the right amount of daring style, topped with a smidgen of mad fun. Her outfit is a perfect constellation of technical excellence, high fashion, and whimsy — just like the world of Alta Moda, Alta Sartoria, and Gioalleria which Dolce & Gabbana established five years ago as a biannual celebration of Italian haute couture. It is a special place.