Sometimes life gives you a sequel, and like any great next adventure, it should be bigger and better, with exciting locations, and surprise cameos. For me, that meant stepping back into the high-stakes world of Dolce & Gabbana, the luxury fashion house founded in Milan, Italy, by Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.
Last year, alongside a group of the designers’ top clients — the world’s one-percenters who don’t bat an eye at dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars on a one-of-a-kind gown or a handmade sequin-covered jacket with an opera motif to add to their personal sartorial war chests — I traveled to Milan and took in Dolce & Gabbana’s Alte Artigianalità shows, a presentation of its most exclusive collections: Alta Gioielleria or “high jewelry,” Alta Sartoria or “high tailoring,” for men, and Alta Moda, or “high fashion” for women. The shows were inspired by the life of Giuseppe Verdi.
This year, for the first time, the designers — favorites of Rihanna, Shonda Rhimes and many more in Hollywood — brought their high-fashion extravaganza to New York, where the shows came with a healthy side of celebrity. Jamie Foxx, Dakota Fanning, Nick Jonas, Trevor Noah, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Diane Kruger were a few of the bold-face names I spotted making appearances during the four-night blowout held in iconic New York locales: the Metropolitan Opera for the women’s collection, the Rainbow Room for the men’s show and the New York Public Library for the jewelry. Appearing on the Dolce & Gabbana runways were the likes of Karlie Kloss, Joan Smalls, Naomi Campbell, Christian Combs, Ashley Graham and Maye Musk.
In short, being in this world again was like being in a Dolce & Gabbana painting, where everyone wears mink coats, gold crowns, exotic leathers, impeccably tailored suits and spectacular gowns.
“We take inspiration from the city,” said Gabbana with Dolce seated next to him inside a design studio at Chelsea Piers. “All of the inspiration about the collection is the building[s]. It’s in the texture of the fabric. It’s in the print. It’s in the embroidery.” (A large team from Dolce & Gabbana was flown in from Italy to work on the women’s and men’s collections, which had 203 looks. One model even had her butler walk behind her on the runway of the women’s show.)
Besides the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and other New York landmarks, the designers were inspired by the city’s varied styles, from Art Deco to the graffiti era. The designers also zeroed in on New Yorker John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest people of all time. (“In Italy … when someone says something about money, you say, ‘You think you are Rockefeller?’” Gabbana said.)
All of this inspiration gave the designers an opportunity to present a fashion melting pot where formal attire meets streetwear, sportswear and vintage-inspired looks. Picture elevated bowling shirts, oversized army jackets, hand-painted ball gowns, tailored suits, basketball jerseys and disco-style clothes in rich fabrics. “We experiment more,” Dolce said about the Alta collections’ varied looks versus what might appear in the brand’s ready-to-wear line. “We don’t care about the price.”
But don’t call it “couture.”
“We never talk ‘couture’ because we’re Italian, and we love Italy,” Dolce said before dismissing the French word. “We don’t look at other people.... We sketch your dream.”
What I saw in New York succeeded at touching on signature Dolce & Gabbana story lines while showing the designers’ love for the city and tapping into New York’s rich history. Their memories about the city, as seen on their runways, captured the red, white and blue American spirit of decades past when it appeared anything was possible. (If you’re looking to believe that again, look at the standout women’s looks that showed New York’s skyline, especially the fur coats and the oversized and fitted — sometimes fur-trimmed — jackets that displayed tried-and-true, star-spangled patriotism.)
“A lot of inspiration we mixed together,” Gabbana said, speaking about how styles of past decades showed up individually or in the same looks on the runway. “This is the essence of the collection.”
The focus on the Big Apple meant having aspects of New York’s pop culture on full display. It shouldn’t have surprised me that a Carrie Bradshaw moment happened at the start of the festivities. Flanked by Dolce and Gabbana, Sarah Jessica Parker, who starred as Bradshaw in “Sex and the City,” made her way through the New York Public Library — yes, as she did in the first movie — for the Alta jewelry show, dinner and charity auction. An unidentified Newport Beach couple gave more than $500,000 during the auction for Dolce & Gabbana jewelry and the gold sequin-and-embroidered gown Parker was wearing. Auction revenue was donated to two of her favorite organizations, the New York City Ballet and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.
The next night, during the over-the-top, Art Deco-meets-sportswear menswear show, Liza Minnelli (“Sex and the City 2,” anyone?) sat in a director’s chair — she said she had a sprained ankle — on the Rainbow Room’s stage, singing and lip-syncing a set that included “Cabaret,” “All That Jazz” and “New York, New York.”
Before the show, Dolce said the goal was to put on display “the new Rockefeller guy, the new dream.... We look at New York through Italian eyes.” (Clearly, this new guy loves sequins and velvet as well as robes made of crocodile skin.) One of my favorite looks from the men’s collection was a baby-blue mink fur coat and matching suit made from, as Dolce described it, a new metal and silk fabric.
And on the final night of the shows (before store opening parties in SoHo and Miami), Dolce & Gabbana celebrated its Alta Moda collection during a festive evening at the Metropolitan Opera house at Lincoln Center, with a heartfelt speech by Italian actress and model Isabella Rossellini, large glass displays showcasing gowns from past collections, fireworks and an Asian-garden-themed onstage dinner. (About 300 clients were able to immediately buy what they liked on the runway using WhatsApp. Based on what I observed after the show, a majority, if not all, of the pieces had been purchased that night.)
During the evening, Marjorie Harvey, Steve Harvey’s wife who’s a patron (and runway model) of Dolce & Gabbana, and an Alta Moda regular, looked thrilled. While exiting the opera hall, she turned to her TV personality-husband, struck a pose and said with a laugh, “Daddy, take a picture from behind.” That’s when I thought back to the opening gala dinner at the New York Public Library where Steve Harvey, who’s become quite the #DGMan himself, told the audience, “This is my wife’s world — fashion. I just pay for it.”
As dinner winded down, celebrity makeup artist Pat McGrath, who has worked with Dolce and Gabbana for about 20 years, told me she was still feeling the excitement of the show, having worked backstage to ready the models. “It was amazing to be inspired by the textures, the richness, them being here [at the opera house].… You’re always transported into this incredible, beautiful world,” she said. “It’s like being transported into a dream, don’t you think? You have to pinch yourself.”
For some, the dream wasn’t over. There was one last Dolce & Gabbana tradition. The designers and their team gathered with guests and clients, most of whom had worn Dolce & Gabbana pieces all weekend, for a 10 p.m. “once-in-a-lifetime party.” This time the setting was the Standard Hotel’s Boom Boom Room, where singer Rita Ora performed.
In the wee hours, I lost track of Dolce and Gabbana in the crowd and turned to the dance floor before exiting the party around 3 a.m. In the misty morning, as I gazed up at the tall buildings on the way back to the hotel, I realized I had fallen in love with New York again. I was looking at the city in a new way. And, boy, did it feel good.
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