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

Italian fashion house invites Chinese, Russian and Middle Eastern uber-rich to join lucky locals in celebration of actress and ancient city

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2016, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2016, 5:49pm

The cacophonous chants echo down the ancient cobblestoned street.

“SO-PHI-AAAA! SO-PHI-AAAA! Te amo! Be-lli-ssi-ma!” shout Neapolitans from cordoned off boutiques and balconies on Via San Gregorio Armeno, passionately throwing their arms out at the figure enveloped by a mob of photographers, cameramen and fans, slowly making her way towards a gold and red velvet throne.

The ancient street in Naples is closed off for an event for some of the world’s richest and most eccentric couture clients, and a few lucky locals who live or work there. With guests from around the world – Russian oligarchs and their wives, Middle Eastern and Chinese uber-rich (who came with families and personal photographers) – all decked out in outfits worthy of royalty and red carpets, the surreal scene could be taken straight from a film.

As the 81-year-old Oscar winner, Sophia Loren enters the street flanked by stressed security and Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, the fans go wild. Having grown up in a town close to the city, it was Loren who chose Naples as the city of focus for this season’s show of Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda collection.

“We came to Napoli because of Sophia Loren. She’s the inspiration for this whole collection,” says Dolce. “Each summer, it’s a different city we take inspiration from. They asked her what city. She wanted Napoli.”

Some of Loren’s early roles involved the city – small parts in Italian Cinecitta productions like L’Oro di Napoli. The city’s rough and ready reputation hardly makes it an obvious choice for a couture show, nor a natural host for the world’s richest fashion clientele, but the designers delved into the history and culture of the place and discovered a rich, complex texture to Italy’s messy, passionate and most densely populated city.

Under the gaze of Mount Vesuvius, the bay, with its ancient buildings washed in pink during sunset hours, takes on a magical quality. Here, along a narrow, cobblestoned street selling native crafts in the historic centre of Naples, Dolce & Gabbana paraded 99 exquisite Alta Moda outfits, with each model bowing or nodding towards Loren, sat on a throne like a homecoming queen.

“We want to talk about Sophia, Napoli and Napoli culture,” Dolce explains as he takes us through outfits backstage before the show. “There are dresses taken from her many iconic film roles. There’s pizza, soccer and even[the Napoli footballer] Diego Maradona,” he adds, pointing to a blue soccer shirt, emblazoned with his name and number – part of the most tongue-in-cheek and clever outfit of the range, and one of his favourite looks, worn with a black skirt embroidered in sequins with the Neapolitan slang for “good luck”.

The gilded churches, the priests and traditions inspire opulent gold dresses and hats. Decorative elements mirror the interiors of the monastery and church of San Lorenzo Maggiore. Madonna and Child images adorn dramatic dresses, and other sexy frilled or ruched dresses take references from Loren movies such as Sunflower.

“There are some dresses which are very light, very Sophia, very sexy,” says Gabbana, pointing to more whimsical, camp pieces (it is Dolce and Gabbana, after all) such as a hat affixed with a huge baba (brought to the region by French chefs in the 18th century and hugely popular) and one with a giant slice of pizza.

“She loves the rose,” Gabbana adds, “so we use a lot of the flowers in the collection.”

As unabashedly opulent and feminine as these Alta Moda outfits were, an addition to the collection was the ripped couture denims embellished with rhinestones and gems, a nod to the ’90s style of casual dressing that Naples is famous for – “playing on the contrast between street life and the Alta Moda”, says Dolce.

Unfinished formal suiting (threads hanging loose, an almost Margiela-like deconstruction in parts) referencing Naples’ strong men’s tailoring roots provided a lovely, masculine interlude.

“Touch, touch!” Dolce says, showing off the long, voluminous ball-gown skirts of the show’s finale. “I love for you to touch.” The beautiful fabrics were handpainted with baroque floral blooms by artists, so they are very hard to replicate.

This eclectic mix has been most interesting. Couture shows can seem horribly out of touch with modern society – they are more often than not about escapism and fantasy. But this time, the designers invited local shopkeepers and residents to watch what is usually an intensely private show.

“These craftsman are doing their own version of Alta Moda,” says Dolce of traditional, often handmade Napoli crafts. “It’s smaller, yes, but a kind of unique attitude to craft.”

Slow fashion, craft and timelessness are at the core of Alta Moda collections – a reaction to the speedier, shallower parts of the high-fashion industry in the digital age.

“The Alta Moda is very intimate and private. I am not very technological. I’m sorry but I don’t want to share my life with everybody. I want to choose who I share my private moments with,” says Dolce in a barbed reference to the current obsession with speed and social media. “Sometimes the fashion [industry] kills the fashion, the news can kill the news. Today there is the obsession with the first. For me, I don’t care who is the first; for me it’s important who’s the best, to enjoy, relax and to live well moment to moment … not just being concerned with the first 30 seconds.”

“We don’t care if it’s cool, trendy or if it’s the new shape,” adds Dolce , “it’s just a Dolce and Gabbana moment for Sophia. Because this collection doesn’t work if it’s for another place, person or city. This collection is for Sophia Loren, Napoli and this street. We chose this place, we work around this place.”

The melding of Neapolitan culture with a sartorial tribute to Loren’s career made for the brand’s most eclectic, engaged and interesting Alta Moda show yet. And to celebrate a city so raw, vibrant and often overlooked by the fashion set in favour of the more picturesque Amalfi coast or destinations like Capri and Portofino is to acknowledge that Naples is not the playground of the rich and famous, and instead rather ironically famous for cheap designer knock-offs.

As Gabbana jokes in a booming laugh while holding an Alta Moda couture piece painstakingly embellished with the word ‘Napoli’ on the front that probably took weeks to make: “You’ll be able to buy these looks in a few days on the market streets of Naples.”