In the grounds of Milan's Humanitas University, three men in navy suits, pristine white trainers and, somehow, even whiter shirts, take to a low Pythagorean stage and begin to bellow out a sad opera tune. The late afternoon sky is a beigey grey hanging over the runway where guests – real guests – are spread two metres apart and masked up. The words 'Everything is going to be alright' are printed high on the side of one of the campus buildings. Blink and the camera pans back to the front row and the bellowing trio.
It's the Dolce & Gabbana 2021 show, and it's happening live.
While the vast majority of this year's European fashion week calendar has taken place behind a series of closed doors, sets and studios, a strictly 'phygital' experience where brands have shown pared back, season-bending collections in sparse warehouses, offices and concrete cubes, Dolce opted for an in-person al fresco approach. And while the weather wasn't summery, the clothes certainly were.
A collection that, according to the show notes, "looks at the Humanitas University Campus in Milan as a tribute to Italian genius and recalls the colours of the sea," and the "meeting between contemporary and neoclassic inspires a collection of pure sartorial architecture." As with all D&G shows it was maximalist, but gone were the gold trim and velvet lapels of shows gone by, replaced instead with geometric and tiling-print blue shirts in long, short and camp collar styles; small trunks and giant denim jackets; white and blue two-toned pinstriped suits and some technical-looking navy tailoring. There were a series of bucket hats that will likely do very well next summer. A highlight was an outlandish patchwork suit done up in different cuts of fabric and shades of pale blue worn with running trainers.
On top of being a beautiful location to highlight clothes, the Humanitas University has, since 2019, been the recipient of a D&G-funded scholarship for Medtec students and, when the coronavirus was first detected in Italy, a research programme aimed at investigating the immune system's response to the virus, also D&G-funded. "Beyond what is still to be discovered about this coronavirus, today more than ever we know that doing research is the best way to look ahead and be ready," says Alberto Mantovani, Humanitas Scientific Director.
Short shorts, architectural prints and good deeds aside, it will be interesting to see where this leaves the future of the fashion show. A return to physical? A deeper dive into 'phygital?' Or somewhere in between the two? Speaking before the show, Domenico Dolce sent out a clear message: "the fashion show cannot be substituted with something on a screen. You need the physical contact, the human connection. Because fashion begins with people."
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