The house of Dolce & Gabbana brings exquisite couture to menswear in operatic style in the Alta Sartoria collection. Project Luxury & Art talks with designer duo Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce about the collection.
There can be few venues that inspire such awe and reverence for the theatrical than Teatro alla Scala in Milan, and even fewer designers who could hope to compete with its gilded interior. That is until the fashion force known as Dolce & Gabbana descended on the venerable institution to present its couture confections to 300 guests as part of a spectacular three-day extravaganza – not only fashion shows but lavish dinners plucked straight from a Caravaggio, fine jewellery presentations, dancing and private museum tours - known as Alte Artigianalità. “Both the Alta Moda and Alta Sartoria are the highest expression of our creativity: two very challenging but exciting collections,” Stefano Gabbana tells us. “Working for Alte Artigianalità gives us the opportunity to learn new things every time, do research, go further, and explore dream places such as Teatro alla Scala.”
History Lives On
The history of Teatro alla Scala is inextricably entwined with that of mid-19th Century composer Giuseppe Verdi, who gave the world seminal operas such as Rigoletto (1851), La Traviata (1853), Don Carlos (1867) and Aida (1871). Fittingly, the Alta Sartoria collection is influenced by the great composer, and by virtue of its military red velvet capes, shiny top hats and elaborate silk robes, it brought a crescendo of ornate neoclassical opulence back to La Scala’s stage. “These are clothes that are appropriate for the stage upon which we are showing them,” Stefano Gabbana noted before the show.
“Giuseppe Verdi is the Italian composer we love the most,” says Domenico Dolce. “It has been an honour dedicating our Alta Sartoria collection to him and to his operas. His operas are extraordinary, they tell stories, they bring emotion, like we expect our Alta Sartoria clothes to do.” Italy’s history is never far from the surface of couture collections by its homegrown designers. One need only cast an eye over the Renaissance-inspired intricacies seen at Valentino or the silhouettes reminiscent of Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais at Giambatista Valli in recent seasons. “Verdi and the Teatro alla Scala of Milan, represent two great institutions for us,” adds Gabbana. “They represent Italian history: our music, our art. We really like to attend the opera, it gives a rare emotion whether we go there as spectators or to show our collections.”
Literal historical interpretations in the collection included half-tail coats, fragile white cravats and high-collared double-breasted waistcoats. Gold embroidery and pailleté on pyjamas, knitwear and robes left elegant trails of Verdi’s annotations and scores; even his face. Yet in amongst the high-concept dramatics were distressed brocade jeans, fur sweatshirts and elegantly crafted modern jackets that signalled an intention for men’s couture to grace streets as well as ballrooms. “Alta Moda is the balance between the extreme attention to details, finishes, proportions, decorations, embroideries and the creation of clothes for trailblazers that our customers want, and want to wear today. This is modernity.” More than ever, the lifestyle-conscious man is seeking the personal touch in his clothing, in a search for the unique and the undiscovered that can become a lifelong quest. “We listen to what our customers want,” Gabbana says. “Sometimes we have to make changes if required, or embroider the customer's name on the leader. In this way our pieces are really unique.”
The Alta Sartoria Man
But, in reality, who is the Alta Sartoria man, living a gilded existence in which astrakhan opera cloaks and bejewelled watches - Alta Orologeria for men comprises four antique-looking horological marvels complete with friezes and bas-reliefs fit for an operatic divo - are necessary wardrobe staples? “The idea of Alta Moda for men was born from the desire of our customers’ husbands to have their own unique pieces to wear on special occasions. And so we began our journey into the Alta Sartoria world,” says Gabbana.
Inspired and encouraged by the women of the world of couture, more than one of whom nonchalantly sported an actual crown to Dolce & Gababana’s front row, these men are seeking to experience similar fashion nirvana. As a reaction, perhaps, to a recent period in menswear in which understated refinement and minimalism – chic sneakers and athleisure in particular - has crushed joyful flamboyance. “Men, just like their wives or girlfriends, want to enjoy the dreams made by special textures, magical places and travel,” adds Dolce. “Everything was born from there: it is the pleasure of having a rare item of clothing to wear while playing tennis or even while you are comfortable on your sofa at home.”
In every aspect of Alta Sartoria, from the location to the attendees to the priceless accessories, the designers have tapped into a grand emotional expression between man and clothing that may have been, if not missing entirely, then certainly overlooked until now. The menswear fashion season has never had the majestic bookend of a couture week, or even cluster of shows, to provide it with a finale and to offer aspirational techniques, cuts and fabrics that push ready-to-wear collections that little bit further. The typical massimalismo approach of Dolce and Gabbana may just be changing the mood of menswear. “Our customers are asking us to dream,” says Stefano Gabbana. In Alta Sartoria, the dream becomes reality.