Inside Dolce & Gabbana’s Three Lavish Days in Venice – See J.Lo, Helen Mirren and more
Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana love Venice, and I spent three days in a whirlwind watching the city return to their passion. Italian or not, most artists, writers and designers, at some point in their careers, pay an inspiring tribute to the city. “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liquors at once,” said American novelist Truman Capote. I know what he means. It’s addicting. Once you’ve paddled down the Grand Canal admiring the Gothic palaces and temples, you can’t go back; you are addicted to the romance and beauty that resonates around every corner. “Everyone dreams of Venice,” confirms Dolce. “It’s unique. For us, it represents the perfect harmony of opposites that attract; it’s dark and golden, happy and melancholy.
So here we are projected, tested and vaxxed for a D&G Doge style carnival celebrating Alta Moda and the talent of Venice. I reflect on how lucky I did not have to quarantine for 60 days on a remote island as was required in the 15th century to stop Plague (black death) to spread. Hence the heritage of the Venetians wearing decorative masks. Excitement builds as rumors circulate that Sharon Stone has been spotted filming the new D&G campaign in St Mark’s Square, but it is the locals who are particularly thrilled. No one visited during the pandemic which turned out to be good for the fish, which I can confirm swim in cleaner canal waters, but for everyone the business has gone. For months, the glass island of Murano and the artisans working in the micro-mosaic ovens have been dedicated to the show. There is a slight buzz in the air as the sleeping beauty comes to life.
The extravagance begins with cocktails at the Doge’s Palace – the symbol of Venice’s ancient power whose pink marble-encrusted colonnades rise above the sparkling blue lagoon – to see the Alta Gioielleria. It’s a dreamy landscape of gems in every color you can imagine – and some you can’t – upholstered on shiny silk and velvet. We see Baroque style rings, pearls the size of small eggs, electric blue tourmalines and rare diamond swags like royal jewels line the monumental hall under the painted canvas of Tintoretto’s paradise. Customers view precious miniature “Canaletto-style” micro-mosaics, wondering whether to add them to their boat collection. This precious gondola would look great with the Capri boat earrings with the enamel stripe awning that they bought a few seasons ago. “Venice is a gem like a diamond,” Dolce says as we inspect the tables covered in pink brocade and laden with candelabra for dinner in the courtyard below. Kitty Spencer arrives dressed in a pink bustier, after making a detour on her honeymoon in Positano. As we descend the stone steps towards dinner, a client stumbles ahead and her heel rips her chiffon dress. “Don’t worry,” Dolce laughed, “I have my scissors. I’ll make a mini-dress out of it.
The next day, models float down the Alta Moda runway on gondolas, the gondoliers’ silver and blue shirts designed to reflect the color of the moon above. No one delights better than Helen Mirren wearing a gem-encrusted corset and puffy Renaissance-style crinoline. J.Lo emerges from the lagoon like a beautiful sea princess with hair piled under a golden crown. She’s without Ben, but Dame Helen’s husband, director Taylor Hackford, adoringly films Mirren’s every move.
After the show, the party begins at the fish market under the stone arch of the Rialto Bridge spanning the Grand Canal. For centuries it has been the market for spices, perfumes, precious stones and silks; tonight the scent is heavy with fragrant foliage, including roses, bougainvillea, pomegranates and bunches of grapes falling from the roof of the wooden loggia. There is a family atmosphere as we browse the market, choosing dinner from a tempting range of caviar and Italian dishes, as well as Dolce’s favorite Sicilian ice cream and dolci stuffed with ricotta and cream. Christian Bale, Monica Bellucci and Sean Combs are proud to lead offspring who made their modeling debut on the series. The rain starts to drip through the rafters, but who cares? Dolce dances with Dame Helen and the party continues.
Then, the carnival moves to the Arsenal, the heart of Venice’s naval industry for seven centuries, to witness the Alta Sartoria men’s show. The range of monumental brick buildings has been modernized and reused as the operations center for the Venice MOSE project, the flooding system created to protect the Venetian Lagoon from flooding caused by the tides. The leopard print has gone viral here, and I succumb to it wearing a beautifully tailored leopard print jacket.
The beautifully executed 500 meter track across the lagoon makes the models look like they are walking on water. And yet, even Dolce & Gabanna can’t control everything. Time hits a major glitch. Suddenly, hailstones like giant diamonds, and almost as hard, are thrown from the sky, followed by torrential rain. Kris Jenner refuses to budge, waiting for the final hidden under an umbrella. The rest of us took it for cover in a nearby warehouse. Dame Helen shows off her British courage by running utterly unperturbed through soaked silver to the ground. She had looked puzzled the day before when a few people left the Alta Moda show after a few drops of rain, muttering, “I don’t understand fashion people.”
The next scene was surreal; Vin Diesel, the children of Combs and Doja Cat with matching beefy bodyguards, all safe from guests removing shirts and jackets to make them drain; others later appeared at dinner in chic borrowed black silk dresses. Emma Weymouth arrives with a broad smile, as if she had bathed in the lagoon. We come together laughing and sharing “wet” stories, some drying the seam they bought the night before. It didn’t take long for us to dive into another large-scale space decorated with the new design from the Casa Sicilian blue collection chosen from the lights on the walls; the tables are set in blue and white, lit above by vast glass chandeliers. Champagne is flowing freely, with “Volare” in the sound system, and everyone is seated and installed.
“I’ve been in fashion for 43 years and I’ve never experienced anything like it,” Dolce says, looking relieved and holding her chest. “I can’t stand the emotion.” The conversation at my table was puppies; Dolce’s companion Gui Siqueira can’t wait to reunite with Fefe, their beloved Cavapoo. Expect D&G dog accessories soon. Dame Helen led the dance again, this time with Ciara, before the place was transformed into a Studio 54 nightclub with dancers, music and fireworks.
This morning, the wonderfully entertaining paintings come to an end. During three magical days, the lagoon, the carnival, the palaces, the paintings and the symbols of Venice are reflected in the places, the dresses and the jewels. “We experimented this time, working with Venetian crystal and glass,” Gabbana explains. “You never know if it’s going to work. I can confirm that it does. It was a happy love letter written in large gems and cloth in memory of Venice. The show may be over, but the echo will remain. Alta Moda had already taken place in the city eight years ago. Give it time; like all Venetian visitors, he will be back.