Why Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Sartoria line is a hit with Hong Kong’s super-rich

Italian brand’s couture line for men appeals to a niche market – the ‘D&G family’ – with eccentric tastes and a desire for daring, personalised outfits to distinguish themselves from the regular dandy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 August, 2016, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 5:26pm

Jonathan Cheung started his summer yacht trip in Cannes. He sailed his boat around the south of France with his family, then to Portofino in Italy with friends, who accompanied him down to Naples, where he attended the exclusive Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda and Alta Sartoria fashion shows in July.

The Hong Kong mover and shaker, who co-founded Buzz Agency, is part of a generation of ultra-wealthy, globally savvy millennials in the city for whom the usual in designer fashion doesn’t always cut it. They occupy a tiny social niche Dolce & Gabbana has tapped into with gusto. (For those who think couture is all about the women, think again. The label’s Alta Sartoria men’s range accounts for around half of couture sales, the designers say.)

Dolce Gabbana’s Alta Moda tribute to Sophia Loren in Naples, her home city

This season’s collection, which debuted at Naples’ Castel Dell’Ovo, featured tailored eveningwear worthy of James Bond, with black and white tuxes in abundance but also cornflower blue and earthy hues. We loved the colourful dishdashas in very non-traditional fabrics and prints.

Casual leisure separates came in vivid colours and quirky patterns. The sleepwear and bathrobes, favourites of the Alta Sartoria crowd, were there too, as were glittering sequinned outfits and suits – not for your regular man types – and, for the hell of it, a quilted gold racer suit with matching goggles and helmet. A raucous party ensued, running into the early hours.

The Alta Sartoria line features clothes that are impeccably made, eccentric and often perfect for those rare fashion beasts: the ultra-wealthy male peacocks, several steps above the dandy in their budgets and eccentricity. It’s not hard to see why the likes of millionaire Macau casino proprietor Stephen Hung is a fan. Cheung, however, represents a young generation for whom high fashion and bespoke tailoring has long been within reach and whose members seek ever more special sartorial experiences as they mature.

Alta Sartoria: pushing the boundaries of men’s bespoke

Cheung became fond of Dolce & Gabbana in his third year in high school, but had stopped wearing D&G until three years ago. A perfectly fitted deep-green three-piece suit he bought in the label’s Bond Street store in London revived his interest. Cheung bought extensively after that, and was soon invited to the Alta Sartoria atelier in Milan.

“It completely changed my perception of fashion for men,” he says. “The clothes in the atelier are so luxurious and beautiful.”

Many of the outfits there are striking and heavily embellished hero pieces meant to inspire clients to buy something uniquely suited for them. At Alta Sartoria, unique outfits are the order of the day, even if the uniqueness is achieved by an adjustment “like changing from a shawl collar to a peak lapel – to ensure that you’re the only one with that [exact] look”.

Alta Sartoria clients can go one step further and commission an individual artisan whose style they like to paint their name on a piece or even, as Cheung says, your favourite Pokemon. “Anything’s possible in those rooms.”

In previous seasons, Cheung ordered more classic items from the Alta Sartoria line. “Tailoring with a twist, such as a beautiful double-breasted coat in the softest cashmere with a shawl collar [not easy to find] and in this pinkish camel colour that was specifically developed for them.”

This season, after seeing the James Bond-themed collection, he’s moving on to more daring and special choices. “There were these printed silk pyjama looks and I have ordered a few,” he says. “There was this one printed with these boats on the shirt and I have asked them to print Happy Days – the name of my father’s boat – on them.”

There are fewer labels making men’s couture than women’s. Of course, for those who can afford them, there are many bespoke suiting options from older houses – Napoli brands or those on London’s Savile Row – and from the best Hong Kong tailors. But the playful, intensely Italian approach of the Alta Sartoria couturiers has captured a lucrative niche market in men’s luxury apparel.

“I believe Alta Sartoria is the only brand that offers what they call couture to men,” says Cheung. “Yes, its a trend that major brands are pushing customised product lines and extending made-to-measure services…Dolce & Gabbana has also done this, but Alta Sartoria is completely different, allowing men to fully experience what the couture world has to offer.”

Cheung is talking not just about the clothes but the four days of back-to-back events and parties that have become a signature of the brand’s annual Alta Moda and Alta Sartoria shows. Bringing wealthy men, women, couples and even families together at an Italian hot spot (be it Portofino, Naples or Venice), the experience has fostered an eclectic, fashion-focused and very wealthy community that most wealth managers would sell their souls for. Speak to the clients and they’ll talk a lot about the “D&G family” they feel part of, and with whom they get together each year.

“What I think separates this from other client-centric fashion events such as the Dior/Chanel cruise/pre-fall shows is that this is a multi-day event, with a lot more than just a 20-minute show,” says Cheung, “And at the end of the day, it’s hosted by Dolce & Gabbana, so you KNOW it must be fun.”