As I write this from my bedroom in London, all my friends seem to be in Italy, a fact constantly brought home by a steady flurry of Instagram posts of tuna carpaccio at Da Adolfo, Aperol Spritzes at La Fontelina, and the infinity pool that overlooks Portofino at Belmond Splendido. Italy is eternally synonymous with summertime dolce vita. It always will be. And unlike trendier vacation spots, it never loses its appeal. The particular blue of the water, that life-affirming feeling when you towel down after a dip, the decadent simplicity of a spaghetti pomodoro and a glass of wine, reassures us that life, despite all of its pain and disappointment, can still be beautiful.
Which brings us to Dolce & Gabbana, the most Italian house there is. The brand has had a rough few years, with their infamous race-rooted cultural gaffe, social media blunders, and various controversies concerning statements made by the founders and creative leaders, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. This dynamic, in a backdrop of logomania, political correctness and a focus on the digital-world, coupled with the house’s staunch adherence to high-octane glamour, sometimes poses the question: is Dolce & Gabbana still relevant?
Staged in Dolce’s native Sicily, in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, the mood at the presentation of 125 looks was hallowed. Built about five centuries BC, the sprawling complex is a widely spread out ensemble of remarkably preserved temples with views to the Mediterranean Sea. Models, dressed as movie sirens from old Italian films, walked the stairs of the temple to the music of Ennio Morricone. Considered the world's greatest living film composer, Morricone has composed and arranged scores for more than 400 film and television productions, including classics such as The Good The Bad and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in The West, and Cinema Paradiso. Helena Christensen, for example, wore a translucent black tulle ball gown scrolled with golden embroidery out of Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard.
I don’t know if you care about these references, and I often wonder why some fashion critics insist on stuffing their reviews with bygone allusions as if to prove how deeply cultured they are. What about how these clothes will make people feel ? However, I happened to see these old films because I took a course on postwar Italian cinema when I was at York University in Toronto, taught by the most passionate and dynamic Sicilian professor, Mauro Buccheri. After heatedly discussing the political backdrop, we students would get a cappuccino, and go to the university’s theatre to watch Fellini, Pasolini, et al. It was the first time in my then-20 years that I saw films that didn’t solely exist for entertainment, but ones that attempted to answer the big questions, and made you introspective. They made me feel small, helped me forget about my trivial concerns at the time, showing me that there was life before my 90s/00s existence in downtown Toronto and there would be one after. They left a mark, in a way that Italian things do.
The clothes…what can I even say? They were spectacular of course, maximalist, embellished, silhouette-cinching dresses of every kind of lace , organza and sequin imaginable, and opulently basilica-worthy jewels. And with such a volume of looks, there was something for every type of woman.
Yes, fashion has to keep evolving. There are many commercial reasons to keep things Instagram-friendly, and with drones on the runway, D&G have tried. But frankly, this is a brand that’s best when it’s simply true to themselves. What people don’t appreciate enough about brands like Dolce & Gabbana is their loyalty to beauty and the visceral power of such elaborate creations.
In response to the Italian people’s interest in ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (his La Lettera Sulla Felicita, or Letter on Happiness, sold 1,300,000 units in ‘93 beating even the Tom Clancys of the world) classicist Dario Del Corno has said: “I think that Epicurus has taught the Italian people that there are more things to be found in the world than the ones they're offered by the mass media.”
And perhaps this philosophy explains the eternal appeal of Dolce, of classic Italian cinema, and of Italy itself. In a world obsessed with anticipation and memories, where it is so hard to be in this moment, Italy’s irreverence for modernity and influence allows a real chance to be present, alive and offline.