Dolce & Gabbana: A Day Of Atonement
“I closed the door and opened a window,” said Domenico Dolce, as he focused on a book of ‘Queens’ – his own photographs of Dolce & Gabbana’s female private clients.
His next comment came the following day at the end of an hour-long show for couture clients who had flown in from across the world. “China is yesterday, today is another day. It’s a new Renaissance,” Domenico said.
Stefano Gabbana, whose prolific Instagrams had ignited the furious reaction to apparent disrespect of the Far East, was circumspect. “You make a mistake – sometimes it happens,” he said. “There will be no more Instagram. But out of 25 private customers in China, 18 have come. The others not.”
“It is like a family from around the world,” Stefano continued. “It is a group of friends and we built a relationship. It’s not just outfits they want from us. It is an experience – a kind of club – and each season we become closer.”
Yet it was a chastened duo who received applause for this private-client show, held in the Baroque Palazzo Litta and with a focus on the old world – specifically the Renaissance period as it applied to Milan, rather than the more familiar Medici era in Florence. A gilded book showed the influence of past on present, played out in lush materials, pearl-encrusted headpieces and references to Leonardo da Vinci’s long stay in the city, working for Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, known as ‘Il Moro’.
Singers, standing on the noble staircase like a church choir, were a sign of penitence. And as if the designers sought a Day of Atonement, rooms were smothered with pink roses and the archways canopied with flowers that also served as headdresses for graceful maidens.
The designers were sticking to their own kind of Italianate history, using, for the first time, the famous French couture embroiderer Maison Lesage, whose work helped faithfully recreate the historical patterns. Many images were art-historical references, such as Boticelli’s Madonna and Child decorating the front of a dress.
Yet when it came to the clothes in general, there were probably more tailored trouser suits for women than usual, shown mostly with flat shoes, although they were counterbalanced by familiar crinoline-shaped dresses, short or swishing around the ankles, above shoes with ball-shaped heels.
The outfits for men were focused on taut tailoring but were no less showy – Renaissance embroideries and silken robes that were far too glam for the bedroom. Yet Domenico’s impeccable tailoring came to the fore – and he liked it that way.
“I want to be remembered not as a rich designer, but as a happy tailor,” he said, before adding, “I am 60-years-old this year.”
Dolce & Gabbana’s show was familiar in its approach, but fresh in its details, although there were moments when the clothes seemed drowned in the solace of history. When Italy’s Renaissance past was shown as digital prints flowing over silken or woven dresses, they were often accompanied by framed images, carried by the models like matching tote bags. Domenico explained that he had applied to all the museums for permission to make digital copies of Raphael’s paintings, which were hung on the walls.
“Now a new Renaissance era starts,” he said. “Love makes it sound too much like pop art. This is ‘amore’ – a very complicated word.”
The intense decoration seemed to belong to a different era, when cocktail dresses, dense with embroidery, were accompanied by a hat and veil; or young girls wore short, full skirts decorated with flowers and bouncing frills at the shoulders. There was an occasional insert of reality in knitted sweaters.
The jewellery collection, too, was decorative in the extreme, with its clusters of birds formed with precious stones, bold earrings in a tangle from ear to shoulder, and giant flowers or butterflies planted on the chest. These were accessories not for the fainthearted.
Even before the show, the mood had already been set by a client parade of mothers and daughters crossing the connecting rooms, dressed up in clothes that might be expected for a full-on evening wedding.
Domenico and Stefano are proud of their of the global reach of their client base in an era when there is no longer a society headed by royalty and its surrounding circle – simply an alliance of moneyed people, many of whom enjoy the D&G events because they become part of this family of the super-rich.
Making high fashion into an experience is a new concept – one that Dolce & Gabbana planted in this millennium after they closed their D&G brand, replacing it with Alta Moda.
So with this focus on people as individuals, what went wrong in China? I find it difficult to make any judgement about a show that never took place. The criticism over a marketing campaign of a model attempting to eat pizza, canoli and spaghetti with chopsticks was branded racist, where I would see it as insensitive and stupid.
But the blithe spread of fashion across the world has perhaps become too easy and careless.
China has become a magnet for fashion houses (with America’s Coach company having just shown in Shanghai). This is part of the same international push forward that in the space of one month brought Chanel and Versace to New York, and Valentino and Dior Homme to Japan.
The feelings of a communist country, struggling to find a position between its historic past and the lure of consumerism, have to be respected. It was wise of the chastened designer duo to stay home and present a show with roots deep in Italian history. It was a “Mea Culpa” – an acknowledgement of a fault – and a beautifully crafted collection pertinent to their clientele.