This morning in Hong Kong, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana marked a double of firsts for the fashion house they founded 31 years ago: They held their first ever coed show, and that show was their first ever outside Italy.
The reason? To further the reach—by 9,350 kilometers, the distance from Milan to HK—of Alta Moda, the immersive couture collection–meets–social club they began in 2012.
Held in the dramatically Italian-ified lobby of the Peninsula hotel, the show featured 58 women’s looks and 47 men’s on an all-Chinese cast of models. The 240-strong audience was made up of mostly local clients—some long-standing, some at their first-ever Alta Moda—as well as others from as far as Moscow, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and beyond. A smattering of Italian and international editors, including myself, were also flown here by the designers to witness it.
While the venue and formula were radical departures, the collection was purposefully not. This meant watching it felt discombombulatingly akin to being in Milan, Naples, Venice, Capri, or any of the other Italian Alta Moda venues.
As there, the backstage area was a controlled chaos of last-minute alterations, headpiece fittings, and hairstyling observed by a stone-faced phalanx of hard-looking security staff recruited to protect the gem-heavy Alta Gioielleria collection of lapel pins, necklaces, and earrings to which each model was attached. The runway was red velvet and the soundtrack Verdi-heavy, and roses were heaped liberally all around us.
Although the collection included some motifs including ostrich feathers and cherry blossoms that the designers said they had sourced from Asian decorative tradition, this lineup was not overtly tailored to cater to Chinese customers’ tastes. Gold filigreed shoulder pieces, ruched lace, sequined dresses, fur capelets, plus dresses and separates encrusted with pearls or stones—and those signature baroque headpieces—made for a womenswear collection that was totally consistent with what the designers have been presenting as Alta Moda at home. One fitted scarlet and black sequined dress in an inverted leopard relief was particularly powerful.
Said Gabbana, “A lot of the clients here today haven’t seen a show in Italy before, so some of the looks are classic Alta Moda: the brocade flowers, the lace, all this. We aren’t trying to change what we are doing, just where we do it.”
Dolce added, “We looked at when this hotel was opened, in 1928, and looked at the atmosphere of that time. We thought about The Last Emperor, as well. But the DNA of the collection is very Dolce & Gabbana.”
The menswear, too, was a familiar mix of often heavily embellished suiting with a dash of hand-painted sportswear and the occasional sweeping fur, all worn above slippers heaped with yet more gold detailing. Entirely unfamiliar was that mixing of the genders on the Dolce & Gabbana runway, but what it revealed was total synchronicity—these are equal-opportunity clothes for financially blessed aesthetic maximalists. Some women’s getups looked to have been plucked (almost) straight from the men’s rack: One densely beaded smoking jacket worn above strictly creased black pants by one female model featured a clubby image of a golf bag picked out in green velvet and ruby-color stones.
Afterward, as in Italy, the clients moved upstairs after the designers had taken their bows to eat a lunch that was resolutely Italian: mozzarella, tomatoes, then sea bass. My table included a mother and her three daughters from Shanghai who were generous with their what-to-do recommendations for this Hong Kong first-timer, and they were all wearing previous Alta Moda collections.
When Dolce & Gabbana began this project in 2012, it made little sense to many—why start a low-volume, high-cost couture business in the age of the handbag and fragrance license? Since then, though, houses have been struggling to adapt to a perceived change in taste from consumers away from inanimate trophy luxury to experiential luxury: stuff you can share, whether digitally or in analog real time. Whether by accident or design, Alta Moda preempted that desire. In theory, taking this immersive Italian cinematic fashion experience to moneyed clients around the world could dramatically increase its fan base. Is that something the designers are considering?
“We need to not cancel the past but to put it in the closet. We need to look at people now and think why they do what they do,” said Gabbana. “It is very interesting . . . so maybe we could open a new way to show the Alta Moda. Maybe next time we do something in, I don’t know, Moscow or Tokyo or London, and do Dolce & Gabbana tributes to these places.”
And another question: Could using women and men on the catwalk together here presage a shift back in Milan come prêt-à-porter season? Dolce replied, “Today is just about today, not tomorrow. Now we are not interested in making shows for both genders. This is just one special occasion that comes from our heart.”