NAPLES, Italy —If you never knew that Naples gave pizza to Planet Earth, it doesn’t take long to realise it’s the fuel in the city’s engine. Any time of the day or night, anywhere from gritty back alley to the palatial Museo di Capidimonte, you’ll see Neapolitans trotting along with the square cardboard box familiar the world over as the emblem of the ultimate takeaway.
So it was only right that Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana’s new Alta Moda collection, staged on the street in the very heart of Naples, should include a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “Pizza” (even if it was encrusted with baroque embroidery). That the very pinnacle of the dressmaker’s craft should recognise this humblest of dishes was typical of the designers’ always artful dialogue between high and low culture.
“My heart is in the street,” Gabbana said at one of the post-show dinners that ended each of the four days of Neapolitan festivities mounted by the duo to mark the presentations of their Alta Moda womenswear, their Alta Sartoria menswear, and their collection of precious jewellery. “I prefer to go there rather than to the gala.”
And so to the street they went. Gabbana claimed it was actually Sophia Loren, the presiding muse of this Alta Moda collection, who suggested Naples, the city she was raised in. In a book distributed by the designers before the show, there is a 1955 photograph of her hungrily eyeing – what else? – a pizza. For the show, Loren, now an unbelievable (in any sense you want to define that word) 81 years old, was seated regally on a throne with her grandson, his wife and their children arrayed on either side while a band playing Neapolitan classics paraded in front of her. Loren sang every song.
The musicians were followed by almost 100 models, some of them curtseying to the Queen on her throne before they made their way off down the street
The musicians were followed by almost 100 models, some of them curtseying to the Queen on her throne before they made their way off down the street, gamely negotiating the cobblestones in their heels. Loren clapped every outfit. Il vero Napoli had managed to infiltrate the invited audience of press and couture clients so there was a heady carnival atmosphere, the crowds chanting SO-PHI-A like it was a football match. The designers did, in fact, include a football shirt, the legend MARADONA 10 embroidered across its back in tribute to the Argentinian legend whose career peaked while he was playing for Napoli.
But it was Sophia’s night. Gabbana admitted Dolce and he had lifted a look or two from her movies — the first outfit, off the shoulder, pencil-skirted, decorously sizzling, was from 1968’s Questi Fantasmi; there was a dress embroidered with sunflowers inspired by Sunflower her 1970 Russian adventure. A gorgeous white trapeze coat could trace its origins to a Loren classic, Marriage, Italian Style.
Trapeze coats had the potent elegance of classic couture, but they were no match for a fringed red lace scorcher that demanded a shimmy from its wearer
But what the borrowing ultimately did was confirm that the Dolce & Gabbana woman is a quintessential Italian archetype, embodied equally by Anna Magnani or Gina Lollobrigida or Claudia Cardinale in that golden era where Latin va-va-voom was the celluloid antidote to Eisenhower America, all boobs and hips and lust for life.
The generosity of that archetype was confirmed by the dozens of different body types from all over the world who turned out for the show in their Dolce finery. En masse, they looked splendid. That’s why the designers could swag a shapely rear end in gold lamé and know that there’d be someone, somewhere who’d leap at the notion.
And it was all about shape, the a-line vs. the curve. Trapeze coats had the potent elegance of classic couture, but they were no match for a fringed red lace scorcher that demanded a shimmy from its wearer, or a string of pencil skirts that escalated from the relative simplicity of patch pockets outlined with big brass buttons, to a scene of the slumbering giant Vesuvius picked out in tapestry.
The designers fearlessly embraced similarly kitsch elements, like the souvenir scarves reconfigured as dresses and tops, the hat shaped like a rum baba, or the skirt in blue duchesse satin appliqued with a washing line from which hung lingerie and underwear (Sophia surely recognised that domestic detail from one of the bawdy comedies she made with Marcello Mastroianni).
Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda is a baroque version of their ready-to-wear in that it is all their signature pieces with more bells and whistles
Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda is a baroque version of their ready-to-wear in that it is all their signature pieces with more bells and whistles… and piano shawl fringing and bullion embroidery and crystals and sequins. So many sequins. The classic Dolce Sicilian-widow silhouette was paved with them.
The following night, the designers also smothered their Alta Sartoria with sparkle. The man they had in mind was a Neapolitan version of 007: “Salvatore Bond,” Gabbana called him. Sean Connery, the definitive Bond, wore shorts surprisingly often, but never gold-sequinned ones. He might, however, have fancied the shirt that went with them, printed with sportscars, including his beloved Aston Martin.
Bond’s creator Ian Fleming had his suits made on Savile Row, so it was always assumed 007 would have too. Which meant he’d probably have cocked a wry Connery eyebrow at the Neapolitan tailoring on display on Saturday night. Softer, sexier than the Row, with topstitching to highlight the all-important fit, it embodies a brand of masculinity more louche than the Brit stiff-upper-lippers. And made even more so by the complete wardrobe that Domenico and Stefano wrapped around the sartoria, from bathing suits to bathrobes, with a side order of extreme sports.
The man they had in mind was a Neapolitan version of 007: “Salvatore Bond,” Gabbana called him.
The graphics ran a boy’s-toys gamut: Riva speedboats, cocktail glasses, those sportscars. As diverting as it was to imagine the environment in which Dolce’s Alta Modette would wear her clothes, it was equally so to picture her mate swanning around the terrace of their palazzo in a silver sequin-drenched caftan embroidered with the signs of the zodiac.
And there they all were, lining the Via San Gregorio Armeno on Friday night and the battlements of the Castel dell’Ovo on Saturday, visions of a Naples these clients would probably never get to see otherwise, their lives circumscribed by the private planes and mega yachts they’re taking to their fifth homes. The Dolce & Gabbana Alta spectacles have become fun waystations for them, but the charm of these shows is that, for all the over-the-toppery, they are actually great levelers, fabulous, shameless entertainments.
“Life is once,” said Gabbana. “I’ve been lucky. I like to share that with others.”
That has a lot to do with the duo’s own attitude. “Life is once,” said Gabbana (making James Bond with his only living twice sound like he was hedging his bets). “Money’s not our priority. Love is. I’ve been lucky. I like to share that with others.”
Post-shows, the fitting rooms were packed, just as they were at last year’s Alta Moda event in Portofino. There were already women — presumably the very best clients — wearing their couture dresses straight from the runway at Sunday night’s farewell event (Gabbana in a silver Warhol wig was enjoying his own party more than anyone else). Sharing is good business.
Disclosure: Tim Blanks travelled to Naples as a guest of Dolce & Gabbana.