The Grotta dei Cordari is bathed in pink light. Before its monumental limestone walls, pools of water lie bedecked with roses. Nymphs and scantily clad men climb the rocks and dance between display cases containing fine, bright jewels. Encased in a wooden box, a real-life Madonna is carried into place by pallbearers. Beside her sits her son — yes, Jesus — half naked.
The religious iconography, the dramatic backdrop, the opulent glamor? It could only be Dolce and Gabbana.
The Italian luxury house pulled out all the stops for the 10th anniversary of Alta Moda, its unique, maximalist showcase designed to spotlight exclusive made-to-measure collections in various Italian locations. This year, 750 clients and editors from around the world, including Asia and China, were invited to Siciliy’s Syracuse and Marzamemi to see the brand at its most indulgent.
Split across four days, guests were treated to extravagant and immersive experiences in venues from ports to historic squares, Greek theaters to quarry caves, all inspired by the area’s myths, culture, and costume.
There was much to take in. The new Alta Gioielleria jewelry collection, crafted by a team of 12 master artisans, featured precious stones such as amethysts, tanzanites, and diamonds set in gold with antique drachmas.
The centerpiece didn’t disappoint either: a theatrical procession on the Cathedral square of Syracuse showcased over 100 womenswear looks with all the pomp and magic of Italian opera. Each look was distinctive, a show in its own right, yet brought together through traditional Sicilian black and punctuated by colorful references to inhouse motifs: the Amalfi Coast’s oranges and lemons; agave green.
For the third day, Alta Sartoria, visitors were treated to a play about the local legend of a princess and sunken treasure as upwards of 70 men’s looks passed across the waterfront of Marzamemi. The former tuna fishing village became the backdrop to embroidered velvet robes, with dazzling jeweled pieces reflecting light like the sea.
For a name like Dolce & Gabbana, having fun is big business. The evenings were a kaleidoscope of dinners and discos, with the likes of Mariah Carey, Monica Belluci, Kris Jenner, Ciara, Helen Mirren, and more crowding its dancefloors. Eighteen Chinese VIPs attended the exclusive event, including actor Ludi Lin of Mortal Kombat and Aquaman fame. Lin, with 2.5 million Weibo followers, said how he was “delighted to be there, meeting people from all over the world gathered to see the height of fashion.”
Although the average spend of clients remains confidential, it’s rumored to be over $100,000 (675,000 RMB) per person. Sales figures aren’t disclosed from Alta Moda either, but by the end of festivities over 75 percent of the couture runway pieces and looks had been snapped up. Many purchased pieces were spotted on the dance floor the following evening.
Since 2019, the company has maintained a low-key strategy in the mainland to deal with the fallout of its infamous scandal. Despite this, a number of KOLs posted about the event on Weibo: these ranged from @单品毁灭者, with 1.6M followers; to @thefashionstyle, who has 268,600 devotees; right down to niche influencers such as @Frigaciak图库, with some 21,500 fans. Some posts about Alta Moda highlighted the celebrities who attended (like Kris Jenner) rather than the brand itself. On lifestyle marketplace Xiaohongshu, the hashtag #ThisIsVeryDG (#这很DG) has 634.3k views and many accounts reshared older posts of homegrown ambassadors wearing Dolce & Gabbana, for instance singer Karry Wang and actor Dilraba Dilmurat.
Digital appointments were held for those unable to attend and, of the Chinese invitees who flew in from Shanghai, Beijing, UK and Australia, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Their feedback said that the cut, fit, and overall style of the maison’s pieces were particularly popular. Sicily itself was also a big hit. Off the record, one invitee enthused how they “loved the events and the Sicilian inspiration of the clothes.” Another commented that “the shows impressed me a lot. They represent Italy.”
Indeed, the Made in Italy ethos that underpins Dolce & Gabbana seems to be convincing these HNWI to stick by the company. As one partygoer said, the “preservation of Italian traditions” and the “efforts to promote Italian design” didn’t go unnoticed. However, he added, “Chinese culture and social values need to be considered. This is the best way to win critics and [appeal to] the wider market.”
One way the house could connect with domestic consumers is perhaps not the most obvious. Each evening of Alta Moda created opportunities to see its homeware — from furniture, textiles, and porcelain tableware in bright patterns like Blu Mediterraneo — in action. Chinese attendees said they “loved it,” with one calling it “colorful and happy,” and yet the line is currently unavailable in the mainland.
The thing about Dolce and Gabbanna in China is that despite the perceived considerable setback, it’s been selling all along. Latest figures showed that the country accounted for around 12 percent of total revenues. While some citizens may still be hesitant, many more are buying what the brand makes. Alta Moda provided a small snapshot of this.