Earlier this year, as Italy was hit hard by the pandemic, one of fashion’s most vital creative and manufacturing hubs was forced to shut down. As studios, ateliers and factories ground to a halt, the future of Italian fashion was clouded in uncertainty. When the new menswear season rolled around in July, digital seemed like the way forward. Dolce&Gabbana was the sole exception amongst behemoth brands in its commitment to the tradition and fantasy of the physical fashion show.
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While other marquee names experimented with digital presentations, the brand took to the runway to show its menswear. That was not to say it was business as usual. Instead of the typical enclosed venue at the Metropol Theatre, the show was moved outdoors onto the grounds of the Humanitas University— where Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have been funding scholarships for years and where they donated to Covid-19 treatment research earlier this year. Since that menswear show in July, the brand has been more prolific than most—following it up with women’s ready-to-wear in late September and not one, not two, but four couture collections in between.
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The first two, for men and women, were presented digitally to clients via a members-only website in July. When lockdown restrictions eased, Dolce&Gabbana rallied and threw its annual Alta Moda and Alta Sartoria extravaganzas with all-new collections—titled “Rebirth” and “Renaissance” respectively— shown in Florence in September. As the designers themselves put it, the show must go on. “It’s a new beginning for the city and a message for Italian fashion. Fashion shows are fundamental. They represent a real experience—they provide a dream to those who participate and feelings that the screen cannot convey,” says Gabbana. “The excitement is irreplaceable,” adds Dolce.
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Ruminating on the difficult times we’re going through now led the duo to look at one of the darkest periods in civilisation, and the era of beauty and renewal that followed. “The name of our Alta Sartoria collection comes from the Florentine Renaissance. The arts, culture and knowledge in that period reached such heights that they continue to be taken as a model of perfection to this day. If we look at the works of Leonardo (da Vinci), Michelangelo, (Sandro) Botticelli or Piero della Francesca, we cannot help but be enchanted by their beauty even though more than five centuries have passed,” says Gabbana. “During this delicate moment, we felt the [urgency] of a new beginning, a rebirth—hence the name of the Alta Moda collection,” continues Dolce. Taking the Renaissance as their starting point also allowed the designers to pay homage to the utterly unique crafts of Florentine artisans. “We wanted to use our work to give light to their extraordinary talents because we strongly believe their knowledge and know-how must never be forgotten,” says Dolce. Gabbana adds: “We went to Florence several times to research all the forms of craftsmanship.” It was a meticulous process. “We wanted to see the way the artisans live, to feel the atmosphere in their workshops. We met them one by one and involved them in the creative process. We wanted to breathe Italian craftsmanship in all its aspects,” says Dolce. “We chose not only artisans who work with leather or fabric, but also cabinetmakers, masters of scagliola (plasterwork), bookbinders, feather makers, silversmiths. These are all ancient professions anchored to Italian tradition,” elaborates Gabbana.
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Many brands have reacted to these turbulent times by paring back, but not Dolce&Gabbana. The designers are huge believers in the power of fashion to lift us up. On the Alta Moda collections, Dolce shares: “They’re all about creativity and invention: One-of-a-kind pieces rich in precious details and infused with artisanal know-how. Unlike ready-to-wear, what lies behind the creation of Alta Moda is not the need to dress, but the desire to give personal fulfilment. They are dreams to wear, true experiences of beauty.” Tellingly, their clients are still snapping up these one-off treasures. “We know there are fewer opportunities to go out and show off evening dresses,” says Gabbana, “but people will continue to want to be elegant; to seek, perhaps even more than before, the right dress—like a cuddle to treat themselves.”
Their belief in the elevated and the extraordinary saw them venturing into uncharted waters in 2014: The world of high jewellery, where they compete with not just fashion houses, but also heritage jewellers. “We entered on tiptoes, knowing it wouldn’t be easy. But we wanted high jewellery to be part of our world. It’s a fascinating world—it tells a story made of tradition, people and values, and allows us to express our creativity through precious objects that say something about us and our history. Every single piece is studied in detail; nothing is left to chance—from the [most minute] workmanship to the choice of gems,” says Dolce of the brand’s Alta Gioielleria collection. Gabbana adds: “They are made to be worn or kept, loved and handed down to future generations—accompanied by the history, emotions and memories of those who had worn them before.”
Lavish as their creations may be, it is this emotional depth at the heart of their work that is the reason why they resonate so powerfully. Creativity is nothing if it isn’t accompanied with love, and the duo have that in abundance—for beauty, for the industry, for Italy, for traditions, craft and community. And that’s amore.