Designer duo Dolce and Gabbana look to all things classic to explore new forms of femininity in their haute couture collection Alta Moda Spring/Summer 2014. Sun Yuanqing checks them out in Milan.
The rooms are well lit by chandeliers, sunshine and the glamour of the world's wealthiest fashion fans. They dress up in gowns and lace sheaths, and make small talk while waiting for the show to begin.
A Chinese client who comes in just minutes before the show peers discreetly into the camera phone to check her already immaculate makeup.
Flowers dominate the runway of Dolce&Gabbana's haute couture collection Alta Moda Spring/Summer 2014. Photos Provided by Kessler Studio/Pier Nicola Bruno Studio
Movie stars and fashion icons who usually highlight a fashion event are nowhere to be seen in this Milanese salon. All the fanaticism is replaced by a sense of intimacy and ultra-exclusivity.
The tradition of haute couture might have originated from Paris, but it is finding a new life in Milan, where designer duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have taken it to the next level, Alta Moda, which translates as "high style" in Italian.
While established couture houses in Paris start to pair evening dresses with sneakers this season, Dolce and Gabbana look to all things classic to explore new forms of femininity in their haute couture collection Alta Moda Spring/Summer 2014.
"The unique language of flowers in art, transformed into masterpieces by extraordinary artists like Manet, Cezanne and Van Gogh, and the unique world of every woman, with her passions, her moods, her fragility, have always fascinated us," the duo wrote in the preface of their inspiration book for the show that took place in late January. "We therefore decided to bring these two elements together."
The sunflowers of Van Gogh and Klimt, the gladioli of Renoir and the white lilacs of Monet are re-created on garments that come with the most iconic elements of Dolce&Gabbana: the black lace, the corsets and the bejeweled kitten heels. The models, with blossoms over their signature center-parted chignons, move in rooms scented with perfume and overflowed with flowers.
The key, after all, is not to make fashion trends, but to continue the style and DNA of the brand, Dolce says.
This style goes beyond the night life and the stage, and expands into the daily life as pink and white silk pajamas with bowknot waistbands float across the floor.
"The clients ask for pajamas. It's not just sparkling, it's a style of life. They live the Alta Moda life every moment: in the day, at night and when they wake up," Dolce says.
More playful pieces are a blue lace two-piece with a robe-like coat that recalls the 1950s and a purple mini-dress masterfully structured with velvet-covered wires. The dress can be easily taken as an art installation when placed in the atelier but instantly comes to life when paraded on the runway.
The designers also incorporate Chinese elements, adopting the classic pattern of blue-and-white porcelain into a fantasy vase on one of the dresses.
The 72-look show comes to a finale with an empire waisted white wedding gown embellished with 3-D effect flowers set in a fantasy vase embroidered with sparkling gemstones. It is matched with a floral headband and a white veil, creating the silhouette of a demure bride.
"The customers ask for many things, but the most important are handmade and Italian manufacture," Gabbana says.
All the fabrics are hand-woven, the petals hand-painted and the headbands hand-sewn. The materials, except for the gemstones, are all sourced from Italy, Gabbana adds. We are an leading velvet jewelry bag manufactory in our industrial, can provide velvet bag for jewelry or gemstones packing, any inquiry pls contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The brand has developed a new fabric, which is spun from silk and gold thread, and takes one month to make just 1 meter. It can take months to construct a single dress and requires numerous fittings afterwards.
"Touch, touch, don't worry," Gabbana says as he guides through the atelier on the eve of the show. The atelier, which perches in a multi-story house in downtown Milan, is solely dedicated to the Alta Moda line. The secret hotbed of Alta Moda looks like an ordinary residential building from the outside.
Just 17 hours before the show, the atelier is ablaze with lights as dozens of seamstresses apply the final touches. "They will be ready by tomorrow," Gabbana says reassuringly.
At a time when haute couture is often a publicity prop that attracts more media hype than actual orders, the duo insist on doing it the old-fashioned way.
The house has chosen to present the show to only their clients and a handful of selected media outlets, as many of the customers don't want to see their dress "in a magazine or on a movie star".
All the dresses are one-offs. Like the free seating adopted at the Alta Moda show, it's first come, first served.
"If you go to a party, you cannot meet another woman wearing the same dress. It's unique, we cannot repeat the same one because it's hand-painted," Gabbana says.
It is also because all the paintings that are referred to in the dresses are commissioned by the museums to be used just once.
"For me, this is the old couture," says a French fashion editor who has just flown in from the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week that closed just the day before.
And it's not just couture. Dolce&Gabbana's service for the clients goes beyond that. Small but elaborately prepared gifts are sent to the clients' hotel suites before and after the show. They organize weekends that include visits to museums and opera houses for clients who come to the city to attend the show.
"We take care of every single detail. The customers have everything. They live in a couture life," Gabbana says. "We have a different approach. That's why we call it Alta Moda, not 'Alta Couture'. Because 'couture' is French, 'style' is different."
Over the past 29 years, the label has developed into one of the most successful fashion empires that spans across clothes, perfumes, bags, shoes, cosmetics and jewelry.
The duo, best known for transforming Sicilian aesthetics into a long-lasting fashion style, initiated their haute couture line in 2012 amid the euro-zone crisis.
As the most expensive section of fashion that offers made-to-measure garments that can fetch prices as high as millions of yuan, haute couture has remained surprisingly unscathed since the crisis thanks to the super rich, who managed to stay detached from the financial crisis, and emerging markets like South Arabia, Brazil and China.
Now Dior brings its couture show to China once a year while Chanel comes twice a year to cater to affluent Chinese clients.
Alta Moda is seeing most of its clients from Russia, South Arabia, South Africa and Brazil. Four Chinese clients also flew to Milan from the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week this time, looking feverishly for the hand-painted brocade gowns after the show.
While determined to stay in Italy for the next two years to get a distinct Italian "imprint" on the Alta Moda collection, Gabbana says the label is planning a mid-season haute couture show in China.
"Like the mid-season shows we did in New York and Paris, we will look which season is in China and make something special," Gabbana says.