Long before fashion weeks started splintering, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana set up their own haute couture ecosystem in Italy, immediately spying potential for male clients.
Six years after their first Alta Sartoria collection paraded through Palazzo Labus in Milan, the designers say men make up fully half of their couture clientele, numbering more than 200 people in Asia, the U.S., Europe, India, Russia and South America, in particular Mexico and Brazil.
What’s more, they described a close, collaborative relationship with their clients, offering them a familial, immersive experience exalting all things Italian. The designers have staged lavish couture events in Florence, Portofino, Naples, Monreale and Agrigento over the years, in addition to stops in the U.S., Japan, Mexico and China (where the company’s business has rebounded after a November 2018 scandal when the designers were accused of making racist comments on social media; they apologized and the brand has worked to reestablish relationships).
“It’s not just a fashion show for cool clothes. It’s a moment, it’s history, it’s a relationship, it’s food, it’s Italian, it’s everything,” Dolce enthused of couture in a telephone interview. “Couture is more about style of life. Prêt-à-porter is more fashion.”
While some men order styles directly from the runway, Dolce characterized the Alta Sartoria collections as a “suggestion” to open a conversation about wardrobing them for their unique style of life, or a very special occasion.
“We speak with our customers. We try to understand what people need,” he said, describing an exchange of sketches, color suggestions and swatches. “It’s a beautiful conversation.…We discover a lot of very different lifestyles.”
For example, two months ago a client asked if the Alta Sartoria ateliers could create a jumpsuit for skiing — something Gianni Agnelli might have worn on the slopes in the Sixties. Dolce said he and Gabbana relished the challenge of a technical couture garment, and managed to source a stretch wool reminiscent of the period.
Dolce recalled that his father was a tailor, and he always envisioned that role far beyond mere outfitter. “It’s organizing dreams for the customer,” he said.
The Alta Sartoria atelier stocks mannequins for all its important clients, which reduces the number of fittings required. Tailors are also dispatched with clothes to places like Singapore, Tokyo, New York or Los Angeles if necessary.
Here, Dolce and Gabbana discussed their adventures in high fashion for men:
WWD: What compelled you to launch Alta Sartoria in 2015?
Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana: Alta Moda is a project on which we reflected for many years, until we concluded that closing D&G — our second line — was the necessary condition to embark on this new path. Therefore, in July 2012 we presented the first Alta Moda collection in Taormina and in January 2015, in Milan, the first Alta Sartoria.
History teaches us that man, by nature, has always chosen to mark time, a particular moment, choosing a special outfit. We have seen it with high aristocracy, princes and maharajahs. Similarly, with Alta Sartoria we want to satisfy male hedonism with a proposal that is consistent with the DNA and values of Dolce & Gabbana. With Alta Sartoria, we satisfy men’s desire to feel unique.
WWD: Did Alta Sartoria take off right away?
D.D. and S.G.: Yes, we immediately had an excellent feedback. Some important prêt-à-porter customers approached Alta Sartoria, the husbands of our Alta Moda clients started ordering for themselves and word of mouth was undoubtedly helpful.
WWD: How important are the couture shows?
D.D. and S.G.: For us, the Alta Moda and the Alta Sartoria events narrate Italy. They are not just a moment of showcase, but of sharing and exchange. We like to communicate a lifestyle, a feeling and live it with the clients — now friends — who participate in our events and who, after years, love to meet each other. With the Alta Moda events, we speak about Italy, its art, culture and excellence, from artisanship to food, of the places we choose. Each event has its own narrative, which represents the added value of the experience we give life to.
WWD: Has couture shopping become a couple activity?
D.D. and S.G.: Many are couples, but it is interesting to note that many young people are fascinated by the Alta Moda world. Often sons and daughters of our clients ask to participate in our events and we are happy about it.
WWD: How do you account for the growing popularity of couture for men, and how is it different from the made-to-measure suit business of yore?
D.D. and S.G.: We have a critical attitude toward made-to-measure because we think it often leads to a well-made product, but still industrialized. Alta Sartoria is a very different project that is based on the relationship, the dialogue between the client and our team — from the atelier, to the tailor. It is an intimate connection, almost a confession, through which we get to know the client and his world and he learns something new about himself. He is very fascinating.
WWD: What are the most popular garments or categories of couture garment for men?
D.D. and S.G.: Usually men approach Alta Sartoria asking for a traditional suit, maybe characterized by particular details, but still a classic. But when they relax and feel at ease, their personality and hedonism comes out and they really start to appreciate the project and to ask for clothes, or accessories, in line with their passions often linked to the world of sport. So, we find ourselves working on projects that are not really fashion and that represent a challenge, which leads us to a constant technical and creative research.
WWD: Are there any specialty techniques used only for men’s couture, or skills you had to bring into your ateliers?
D.D. and S.G.: Alta Moda and Alta Sartoria are synonymous with experimentation. This has led us, over time, to have to expand our ateliers and to acquire highly specialized employees. With the Alta Moda project, we want to give visibility to the artisan excellence of our country and, in each place where we choose to show, we go in search of a manufacture, of a particular technique to work on.
With the Monreale show, for example, we worked on the mosaic technique, weaving different fabrics and materials — leather, brocade and sequins.
For the collection presented at the Ambrosiana Library in Milan, we instead focused on the technique of punto-puttura and piccolo-punto to re-create the emotion of the paintings that we have chosen to reproduce on the garments.
WWD: Do men order couture mostly for special occasions?
D.D. and S.G.: Exclusivity is the concept behind the Alta Sartoria project. We only make unique and non-reproducible garments.
Unlike the woman who approaches Alta Moda for a special and unique occasion, the man tends to want to build a personal wardrobe made of clothes that satisfy and tell about his lifestyle, his dream.