Dolce & Gabbana’s annual feast of men’s couture is one of the most dramatic and memorable events on the fashion calendar. Alta Sartoria, as it’s known, is much more than a runway show: it’s a multi-day experience, set in a lavish location, where the house’s A-list clients come together to celebrate the pinnacle of sartorial craftsmanship. There are dinners, there is dancing, there is shopping. And there is a runway show where Dolce & Gabbana’s rarest and most exclusive creations are unveiled before a rapt audience, who rush to order the one-of-one pieces immediately following.
Monday’s Alta Sartoria runway outing in Venice, Italy featured a different kind of rush in its closing moments. Given the risk of inclement weather, Dolce & Gabbana moved the show an hour earlier. As the models began swaggering down a massive, mirrored runway along the medieval Venice Arsenale, the sky darkened. The well-heeled crowd, most attired in their finest Alta Sartoria fits, held its collective breath. And then, as a trio of models wearing lavish, jewel-toned satin suits stepped onto the runway, the skies unleashed a massive hailstorm.
What followed was a furious stampede backstage along the warehouses of the Arsenale, guests screaming as the skies pelted them with marble-sized chunks of ice. Once everyone got to shelter, though, terror ceded to peals of laughter. Not even a harrowing storm—one that none in attendance will soon forget—could dampen the Alta Sartoria party. In fact, having seen capes and suits resplendent with fairy tale materials (gold leaf, diamonds, reconstructed feathers, crystals, Murano glass), executed by months of painstaking handiwork, the question on everyone’s mind was whether the clothing had escaped unscathed, too.
In a way, the storm reflected the immense beauty and energy of Venice that Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana channeled through the collection. Each Alta Sartoria season includes artistic and artisanal flourishes of the city where it’s shown, and Venice has more than most. (Even the frightening and striking sky over the runway seemed to explain why five centuries of painters chose Venice as their port of call.)
Venice is everywhere in this collection, in both context and content. A hub of fine arts, applied arts, and architecture, Venice is a city whose wonder has persisted over time, a living and breathing monument to the intelligent pursuit of beauty. It’s a beauty that must be seen, touched, and felt in person. As Domenico Dolce put it before the show: “Love is not technology; Venice is not technology.”
The collection, then, is a veneration of both the craft and the craftsman. There are the literal representations of the Rialto Bridge embroidered on jumpers, jackets and gowns, glimpses of winding Venetian streets and its monumental churches and palaces rendered in beads, stones, and glass. There is even a painstaking reconstruction of the stone mosaics that adorn the facade of St. Mark’s Basilica using Venetian Murano glass, one of the many local and artisanal techniques elevated throughout the collection.
Alta Sartoria’s intense embellishment is about more than celebrating Italian art and craftsmanship. It’s easy to forget that until recently, Dolce & Gabbana was one of the only fashion houses that offered couture for men. When Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce launched Alta Sartoria in 2015, the designers recognized that men would respond to the sensuality of lavish ornamentation. Male peacocks are the colorful ones, after all. More than any other line, Alta Sartoria—which lives somewhere between formalwear and role-play—gives men license to indulge in the intimate, even erotic pleasures that courtly materials like silk, brocade, and gold can provide. The men’s fine jewelry collection, presented (indoors, thankfully) in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, added an additional magical layer to the fantasy.
After the show, once the guests had begun to dry out, someone asked the designers about the fate of the clothing caught in the tempest. Messrs. Dolce and Gabbana said they hadn’t assessed the damage yet. But they expressed no regrets about going forward with the show. “What we do, we do because it must be done, because we love it,” said Dolce. Times may change, controversies may erupt, but the true believers behind Dolce & Gabbana will stand strong, not unlike Venice in a storm. “Love is a disgrace,” he continued. “But it is the only thing that matters. What matters is what remains.”