Glitz. Glamour. Romance. Sicily. The themes of Dolce & Gabbana are so well established you could almost watch one of their shows eyes closed and predict exactly what the rest of the audience would be seeing. A soaring operatic aria (or, in this case, seven or eight), the heavy footfall of a multi-model finale, the applause reaching a roar as the designers themselves appear, and then finito.
For those who kept their eyes open there was more 'new' to see than usual at Dolce & Gabbana for Autumn/Winter 2012. Baroque was the theme, the grand gesture common to both Italian opera and Italian fashion. Hence the gold bullion embroidery that curled across everything from knee-socks upwards, needlepoint flowers like the handbags clutched by many a stereotypical Italian matriarch, or the chubby putti frolicking through bowers of roses transposed from crumbling palazzo ceilings to on miles of silk gazar.
So, the decoration was hiked up a richter or three, but did anything else change all that much on the Dolce & Gabbana catwalk? Wasn't it just more of the same silhouettes we've seen time and time before, the curvy Sophia Loren dresses, the pinched-in vintage-look Sicilian widow lace suiting and a bustier-n-big pants finale of whippet-thin models boned and padded into something resembling forties Italian starlets. This collection was like an especially delicious but indigestibly rich Italian meal: fun to voraciously devour with a pack of friends, but eventually leaving you with gut-ache and a slightly bloated feeling.
That isn't so much a problem with Dolce & Gabbana as with Italian fashion as a whole. For an industry supposedly rooted in perpetual change, each season proposing fresh upheaval to the status quo, the Italian fashion houses seem happy to keep that quo terribly static indeed. It makes economic sense - it's much easier to tinker with the superficial trappings of change, to tweak the decorative gewgaws and frills rather than tackle the task of engineering a new silhouette. If your factories are geared to one pattern block, it's an awful lot of hassle to rejig them to a fresh and innovative cut. Maybe too much hassle when there's a quick buck or ten to be made. But is that really creatively fulfilling for either designer or customer?
There will be a market for these garments. The sheer number of Dolce & Gabbana stores around the world and the vast quantities of product - both on the catwalk and the enormous commercial collection backstage - fairly guarantee that there is something for everyone. But the lack of innovation, invention and anything genuinely new on the Dolce & Gabbana catwalk speaks volumes not just about this company's creative malaise, but the woes of the Italian fashion industry as a whole.