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Sicilians Do It Better: Dolce & Gabbana Present Their Alta Moda in Palermo

Sicilians Do It Better: Dolce & Gabbana Present Their Alta Moda in Palermo

The arrival of a sleekly suited and enigmatic-looking man flanked by three watchful, headset-wearing bodyguards whose hands hovered above the meaningful bulges beneath their jackets did not, at first, seem that remarkable.

After all, around 430 clients, many of them new, travelled from across the world to the Sicilian capital of Palermo to experience the 126-look swoon that was Dolce & Gabbana’s latest Alta Moda show last night. And at Alta Moda, personal security detachments are ten a penny: The wealth that enables these super shoppers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes considerably more, buying into this couture-but-beyond iteration of idealized Italian-ness comes with its own burdens.

Yet this new face was a man without a woman at a womenswear show who spent a great deal of time shaking hands with people he didn’t know. It seemed strange. When he shook my hand all became clear: This was no less that Rosario Crocetta, the President of Sicily, a son-of-a-seamstress communist anti-corruption campaigner who has been the target of at least three Mafia assassination plots. Wow. So why was he here? The president said: “As far as I am concerned Dolce and Gabbana are the best interpreters in Sicilian style. It is in their blood, and they do a lot for Sicily.”

That exchange runs both ways. In their first return here since Alta Moda’s debut 2012 Taormina show, Sicilian-born Domenico Dolce and his Milanese partner Stefano Gabbana retold some of the most romantic stories of this story-heaped island via the medium of weep-worthily exquisite dressmaking. Even the setting, a piazza locally known as the ”Square of Shame” after the nun-shocking nudity of the statues that adorn its 16th Century marble fountain centerpiece, reflected the dialectic between demureness and desirability—Catholic romantic tension—that makes these clothes so potent.

Once the president, the clients, and a ragtag of press had settled around the fountain a peal of bells rang out to mark the start of the show. Lights came up. The fountain whooshed.

The first look out was a hugely skirted crinolined silk gown whose hem was hand painted with a quote from Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard—“everything needs to change, so that everything can stay the same”—as well as the titular big cat taken from the floor at Palazzo Gangi Valguarnera, where Visconti filmed the ball scene in his 1963 adaptation. The dress, like every look, had a name. This one’s was Angelica, after the bourgeois “beautiful bitch” whose romance with The Leopard’s nephew Tancredi is at the center of Lampedusa’s story of a decadent elite’s inevitable self-inflicted collapse into dust. The modern supranational elite watching raised their phones and nudged each other in admiration as Angelica circled the fountain then climbed up into it to await the 125 other looks.

These combined motifs taken from Sicilian folklore, architecture, and long gone aristocracy were all recast in jewel, lace, sequin, floral embroidery, and pin. In a flow as steady as that from the shocking Florentine fountain (whose nudes’ most explicit accessories were long ago removed by some prim vandal) they swayed back and forth in front of us then up to the water. The French, Spanish, and Arabic decorative legacy of this much conquered island was reflected in prints on silk crepe and embroidered twists on heavier gazars. A full red silk skirt came patterned with embroidered Sicilian hotel stickers that early 20th century socialites might have affixed to their trunks, and embroidered paper labels from which they might have unwrapped their breakfast fruit. A series of pieces were inlaid with delicate reefs of pink-touched orange coral sourced from Sciacca, the Sicilian center of jewelry-making. There were four or five quintessential Dolce & Gabbana Sicilian widow ensembles, and four or five more when ornate separates were contemporized by sportswear and T-shirts. Some looks were accessorized with jewel-encrusted shopping baskets full of bread, herbs, and oranges. One ruched dress was totally self-referential, and featured a printed flutter of the Alta Moda ribbons that secure all newly purchased items. Another referred to nothing much at all beautifully, cut in a white lace inlaid with strips of a sheer and crunchy pale green that were part of a trove of unused 1950s vintage fabric discovered by Alta Moda’s research team. The closing four looks were hugely head-pieced ultra-skirted ensembles inspired by the painted wagons, carretto, that are at the center of Sicilian municipal celebrations.

After the carretto had rolled their way around the fountain the designers emerged to urge everyone onto the runway. We crowded up in a disordered swirl as the president and his burly trio slipped off into the dusk. This show was as transient as the rouge of a cancan girl (to pinch from Lampedusa). Yet it was also an unforgettable golden fleck of a moment which, as one proudly French editor freely declared afterwards, “makes Paris couture seem like not so very much.”





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