At 5am last Saturday, approximately eight hours after Dolce & Gabbana’s women’s Alta Moda show had finished, the final clients filed out of the temporary changing cabins, having placed their orders.
The savvy and/or decisive had reserved their preferences via text or Whatsapp while their favourite looks were still progressing around the catwalk (there’s a discount for early birds).
Fit is not an issue, since this is made-to-measure. Besides, these are experienced shoppers who have usually ascended to the high altitudes of Alta Moda via Dolce & Gabbana’s ready-to-wear collections. They know which shapes work for them, and, explains Coco Brandolini, who works in the Alta Moda client department, “if they‘re coming for the first time, their assigned shoppers [who are employed by the company] will advise them”.
Out of a total of 116 looks just 12 remained by close of play. “This time, clients were actually squabbling over some of the options,” said one observer. “There were some very sharp elbows on display”.
Some of the enormous crinolined ball gowns had even been snapped up (the inspiration of this collection was Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, or rather Visconti’s 1963 film adaptation and the opening look was a sweeping, crowd-parter with a golden leopard picked out in sequins on the back). Where will they wear them? Perhaps to next year’s Alta Moda parties.
Given that the “simplest” wool dresses cost a minimum of €40,000, Dolce’s “sell-through” represents a stellar success rate. More will sell in the coming days, because although they only make one exact copy of each catwalk look, there are an almost infinite number of customisable permutations. Loved the black tulle column dress with hundreds of white silk lilies of the valley? The designers could create a white tulle version with red roses for you. Or pink peonies on pale blue… This is the ultimate in sustainable business models, in so far as the company doesn’t have to keep any inventory.
Few could have predicted Alta Moda’s success when it launched five years ago. In Paris, one after the other, venerated fashion houses were shutting their couture wings. Yet away from the strict legislation of French couture, Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda (Italy’s equivalent of Haute Couture) has found a way to make it seem fresh. For one thing, they switch location each season, rotating around Italy’s seemingly endless roster of movie-worthy settings – Venice one year, Capri the next.
This time it was Palermo, a risky proposal, given the city’s gritty reputation. On one of the guided walking tours of the city laid on for journalists (who are hosted on these trips by the designers), two plain clothes policemen followed on motorbikes. The extra security laid on for their bejewelled clientele was not so covert. Notwithstanding its haggard outskirts, Palermo, once the winter haunt of Italy’s aristocrats, has plenty of blingy churches and lush renaissance and neoclassical palazzos and the designers used many of them as backdrops, including the one where Visconti filmed The Leopard.
The unfolding journey through Italy is part of the attraction for clients. They come from Azerbaijan, China, Russia, California, the UK – some by yacht. And they’re getting younger. At least two families now bring their Dolce-clad children along. It also inspires the designers to riff ever more inventively on the hour-glass silhouettes their clients love.
Cassata Siciliana (a voluptuous green dessert with suggestively placed red cherries on top) appeared as jewelled satin appliques on a white silk dress. There was a coral encrusted black lace jacket, a charming, white crocheted-lace fitted dress with embroidered roses (a favourite emblem of the designers and of Sicilians), a blue and white caped evening dress coated in sequined depictions of classical Sicilian sculptures, a floor-length tapestried dress featuring portraits of the island’s Norman conquerors, a wooden headdress consisting of a painted wooden cart and horse (someone ordered it) and any number of delicate embroidered buds and petals clambering across tulle bodices and skirts.
The menswear is just as elaborate. They may not be visible in daily life, but there are men who relish wearing sequined tuxedos and floral embroidered silk suits and they’re here, sitting on the mock thrones the designers place sporadically in the front row. So what began as an anachronistic-seeming two day event is now four. The women’s show has been joined by one for men (Alta Sartoria), and separate men’s and women’s jewellery collections. Think emerald and sapphire speckled watches, lighters and cigarette cases that can cost up to €900,000. This is not about stealth wealth. It is Fabergé for the modern billionaire peacock.
Although some are able to buy the sample looks (an incentive to stay slim) and wear them the next day if they wish, most will have to wait. Depending on their intricacy, orders take anything from six seeks to several months to make.
The foundations on which this business of handmade, bespoke clothing are built are of discretion. Those first few seasons, journalists were banned from posting pictures on social media, on the assumption, presumably, that the high net worth clientele would want privacy.
It turned out, however, that today’s ultra wealthy just adored directing their own Insta Stories showing themselves dancing until dawn in their Dolce & Gabbana tiaras or shopping in the Dolce boutiques that temporarily pop up in every show location. There are only so many hours one can go without buying something new.