Once the last of the 210 or so looks in this Alta Moda collection had retreated backstage—the finale alone took seven minutes—Domenico Dolce stood in the mirrored hall of Palazzo Litta, in Milan, to address the elephant in this beautiful room.
He told journalists: “China is yesterday. Today is another day . . . I know life can surprise you, in the good way and in the bad way. But not all days are roses. Sometimes when we have the worst day—and I am 60 years old now—I think sometimes that life, it wants to teach us something. You have to open the eyes, and open the heart, and you try and understand what life wants to tell you. And you try to understand. And the day after, you go on.”
Not quite yesterday, but 17 days after the cancellation of its ready-to-wear show in Shanghai and 15 days after its filmed apology for the offense given to China and its citizens, Dolce & Gabbana today swerved from recent history to history relatively ancient. The subject of this collection of one-of-a-kind womenswear and menswear—much of which had already been purchased by the time the aftershow lunch was over by an audience of clients hailing from the United States, India, Russia, Canada, Angola, Germany, Singapore, Japan, and, perhaps surprisingly, mainland China—was more than 500 years old, conceived by the designers early this year, and yet seemed in many ways perfectly pertinent to now.
Entitled the Milanese Renaissance, it took as its starting point the late-15th-century period in which Leonardo da Vinci lived and worked in this city under the patronage of its leader, Ludovico “il Moro” Sforza. History has not been kind to Il Moro—Niccolò Machiavelli gave him a fierce, no-star review in The Prince for allying Milan with the French to fend off the invading forces of Naples and the Pope, a short-term move that only worked until the expansionist French took Milan for themselves—but he did commission and pay for The Last Supper, which is an achievement. Sforza’s reign in Milan coincided with the far-more-famous Renaissance flourishing in Florence, which was overseen by the wisely money-minded Medicis, and this collection’s most assertively memorable flourishes were the looks that incorporated some of the period’s greatest masterpieces of art.
In womenswear, which came first in today’s show, these included a full-sleeved gown with a floral and pearl detailed neckline whose skirt was a 360-degree rendition of Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne in needlepoint. Its model wore a headpiece topped with a framed reproduction of the same painting. Ghirlandaio’s portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni—ordered posthumously by her grieving husband—was re-created on a dress in patched fur and accessorized with teardrops of cut pearl glued to its model’s cheeks. Giorgione’s Judith with the head of Holofernes was revived in a fitted paillette-etched dress framed with orchid-esque ruffles of gold and magenta strafed silk. And Raphael’s Three Graces graced a full-skirted silk gown worn below a headdress of fractured gilded picture frames.
The menswear lacked the millinery framing but continued the central homage to masterpieces past in jackets and coats that faithfully re-created more Renaissance artworks in punto pittura stitching. Many of the male models carried reproductions of the paintings homaged in their garments.
The Lesage embellishments on Indian-inspired jackets, the interplay of crocodile and cashmere on outerwear, the hand-tooled lapis lazuli buttons, and the inset panels of astrakhan in lapels were just a few of the deeply impressive artisanal flourishes here, but as with the womenswear, it was these fine art reposts via fashion that were the standout headlines.
For those who could afford to have themselves or their loved ones portrayed by the great artists of the Renaissance, commissioning a painting was both a tilt at immortality and way of framing their perception by history—beautiful propaganda expressed in an eternal Instagram. As George Orwell put it: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Today, Dolce & Gabbana attempted to reclaim control of its present by showing a collection that displayed its artistic and technical virtuosity to the full.
This article first appeared on Vogue.com