Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda show takes to the stage at La Scala

The Italian design duo bring the drama in a private show at the famed La Scala theatre for their Alta Moda spring 2016 collection

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 February, 2016, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 February, 2016, 12:38pm

Sitting on the stage at La Scala theatre in Milan, facing stacked balconies, row upon rows of red velvet, and chandelier lights lowering towards the makeshift catwalk path, are the members of Dolce & Gabbana’s most private club. There are wealthy Americans, Russians and Europeans decked out in giant furs and outfits from last season’s couture show, a loyal coterie of Arab clients, eccentric couples, families and a growing number of Asians and Chinese.

In its fourth year of Alta Moda, an invitation to join this club of super rich clients has become one of the most sought after in the world of fashion.

Every six months, the two designers host about 200 couture clients and a handful of press for a three-day affair, showcasing the finest of their craft, ever inspired by Italy.

“It’s never just about the clothes,” Domenico Dolce says, “it’s about the whole experience, the lifestyle, it’s the relationship with the customers.”

So they’ve bought us on stage into a revered sanctum of Italian opera, music and theatre – a show quite unlike the 10-minute rapid runways and stomping models we’ve come to expect. The Alta Moda experience is instead reminiscent of the golden age of couture houses.

Prices reflect the painstaking Italian workmanship and exclusivity – each outfit is unique, and once a client orders one, it becomes unavailable to anyone else – you find some clients frantically texting their orders during the show.

“Next time, it’s the roof,” jokes Stefano Gabbana.

Everything that these designers do seems to be a love letter to their native Italy.

“All the craftspeople from the seamstresses to those working on the jewellery are Italian. All the stitching is Italian stitching. So what is the best way to show this? In Italy of course, in Milan, or Capri, Portofino, Venice,” Gabbana adds. “It’s Italian values. It’s like a family … little by little we make a private club where people come from around the world but everyone knows each other.”

Whether you call it club or community or family, over the past few years the social aspect of these shows has fostered unlikely friendships among the rich. And loyalty to the Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda brand is fierce.

“Human relationships are the most important thing in the world … we are the glue that binds them together,” says Gabbana. “These shows are very private and we don’t put people under the spotlight, it makes people very relaxed. You feel more free. We love to share the experience.”

This latest collection was inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s operatic heroines, and the composer’s couturier niece, Biki, who dressed famous actresses and the Italian elite.

The designers have been obsessed with strong diva types since their start in fashion in the mid-’80s. Biki was a powerful woman who worked against her father’s wishes and was influenced by a childhood attending all her uncle’s operas including Tosca, Madame Butterfly and Turandot, as well as the strict codes of Milanese high society she operated in.

Oversized, fur-lined satin coats and box bags were embroidered with prints of original Puccini opera sheets. Gold classical appliques and brocade framed black capes and gowns, striking floral patterns shone under the lights, sizzling with sensuality.

“We love Italian opera, it’s dramatic, it’s in the blood. It’s the culture. It’s timeless,” says Dolce.

There were the odd tulle skirts, but most cocktail dresses were more seductive, feminine and flattering the curves – often sober, dark and tailored to perfection as a nod to the elegance of the era.

“We mixed the severity of the Milanese tailor, the grey, black, simple and a little bit cold, partly reflecting what the audience would wear, with the stage heroines of Puccini – the crazy woman, the eccentric and dramatic,” says Gabbana.

Characteristic sensuality comes from the way they cut the clothes, which as Dolce says, is down to an impeccable balance of the woman’s proportions “the bust, the waist, the ass”. This is his forte – fine-tuning the tailoring and construction on each piece, and being very strict about others fiddling with the details. Sometimes Gabbana says, even he is shooed away by his business partner.

“My relationship with the clothes is like a mama with her children,” Dolce explains, “but after they go on the runway, it’s like they turned 18, I’m hands off.”

After the show the designers come out to take their bows and chat to guests, most of whom have become familiar faces over the years. Soon, the stage floor opens and another emerges from underneath with tables, chairs, centrepieces and waiters standing to attention for a lavish lunch. Dolce and Gabbana are showing clients a certain type of the good life, access that even money can’t buy.

That evening there is a big, camp ’70s-themed party, hastily organised by the brand but lasting into the early hours. They weren’t going to have one this time, but when some clients found out, they protested so much that one had to be arranged quickly.

After all, the designers quickly learned, too, “they come not just to buy an outfit, they come to buy an experience, a style of life”.