Alta Sartoria: pushing the boundaries of men’s bespoke

How Dolce & Gabbana is shaking up the highest end of men’s fashion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 February, 2016, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 February, 2016, 3:01pm

Women’s couture has grown ever more fantastical – gowns defying gravity, wearability and on occasion, even good taste. But despite the passing of decades, men’s made-to-measure and bespoke have been largely rooted in the same hallowed traditions and formal attire of yesteryear.

Whether it’s London’s Saville Row or Italy’s famous Neapolitan tailors, heritage is central to the look (and rules) of what we’d consider men’s bespoke. Bespoke is very different from made-to-measure. Bespoke is when a completely new pattern is cut for the individual, who selects the materials from a long library, the outfit has to be completed over multiple fittings with the tailor and where the client can alter as he wishes. Made-to-measure has far less options and is less personalised.

There are brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna (where we welcome the return of Alessandro Sartori this year), Cerruti or Tom Ford, that do an excellent trade in made-to-measure men’s tailoring for fashion-forward wealthy gentlemen. You can also head to Hong Kong’s own famous Ascot Chang tailors, or the Armory, our local treasure chest for men’s formal attire for both bespoke and made-to-measure.

But what about the millionaire eccentrics then, for whom a flashy lining, perfect fit or jaunty pocket square is nowhere near enough of a statement? Well, Italian label Dolce & Gabbana are making a stab at this very small niche with a unique, men’s bespoke line that ranges from the traditional two-piece suit to giant mink coats, sequined jackets, eccentric sporting wear, right down to pyjamas and hand-painted slippers that, if desired, you can have encrusted in gemstones and hand embroidered, for a price of course.

“A good tailor is like a priest, the relationship is very intimate,” said Domenico Dolce at the debut of this season’s Alta Sartoria men’s line in Milan, last month. The crowd? Just a select group of VIP clients, all super rich, all dressed up with extravagant flair for the day. One young Taiwanese client even wafts into the show wearing a full-on, gold, fairytale crown. Even for this fashion-forward lot, it was a bit much – making for plenty of turned heads and barely suppressed smiles.

“At our Alta events, it’s a close affair,” says Stefano Gabbana, of the closed-door events showcasing these one-off outfit lines, “we love to find a good balance with the customers, and we get to meet all of them. It’s not like we sell to them and then ‘bye bye’.”

As a result, the designers are not so much just dictating to these men their version of ultra decadent Dolce & Gabbana fashion, but constantly designing based on the lifestyles of their millionaire clients. This latest sportswear-inspired collection is a prime example.

“The idea about the sports was not exactly mine or Stefano’s,” Dolce explains. “We have some male customers who last season in Portofino were asking if there was a golf course or tennis club close to the port… Then we realised that sport for these people is very important.

“I don’t play any of these sports,” he laughed, rubbing his stomach over a big luncheon, “but we started to think that maybe we need to make these outfits to dress our client for his entire lifestyle.”

The result: luxurious outfits nodding to the Greco-Roman ideals of male athleticism. Quirky, vintage tennis, horseracing and golfing prints appeared on shirts, silk kaftans and robes. There were of course the popular pyjamas that the designers have made an Alta Sartoria signature – it’s a colourful, disruptive look. On dandified suiting, neoclassical patterns were taken from decorative frescos of their Milanese palazzo, where the Alta Sartoria runway is shown. Then there were the tighter silhouettes in this season’s suiting, tuxedos and smoking jackets, inspired by Fred Astaire or Bing Crosby.

Ultimately, this is menswear that maximises flair, eccentricity and alpha male showmanship – for those “shunning all that is ordinary and mediocre”, according to designers’ notes.

No ordinary person would be able to afford these clothes, of course. And if I’m estimating from being at the shows, their Alta Sartoria clients number less than 100 globally – an exclusive club indeed. Many of the Asian clients we saw there favoured extravagant outfits. Something about the label has clearly hit a nerve with this niche of men, and of their Alta couture lines, the designers tell a handful of press (much to our surprise) that sales are now 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women.