Ah Dolce & Gabbana. Is your strategy facile or is it fearless? Fashion is a game of subtleties, of smoke and mirrors. Every brand today knows the power of the fashion show is to serve as an advertising campaign in its own right, beamed out to millions of potential buyers via live streams and social media. Every brand also knows the importance of celebrity in getting word out there. Nearly every brand works with 'influencers’, that vaguely meaningless yet someone ubiquitous term which seems to refer to everyone from a child or relation of a celebrity, to a street style favourite, to someone who's got upwards of 50k Instagram followers. But most brands play these games carefully and shrewdly - the deals go on behind the scenes, the relationships are fluid. The question of who is paid and how much is never discussed. It's all part of the many many unsaid elements that make up the modern fashion industry. We all know it happens. Few discuss it.
But if you're Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana - never ones to hide their light under a bushel - you take all these aspects and serve them up with no shame, no delicacy. Today's show was like a who's who of Instagram, a festival of excess, surface and social media strategy. It was like they'd read a book on building a modern fashion brand in 2017 and followed it step by step, except with a bigger budget and more fanfare. They set off on this course at their menswear show recruiting the children of celebrities alongside YouTubers and 'it models' - Austin Mahone, Cameron Dallas, Presley Gerber, Rafferty Law - to walk and selfie in their new collection. Many shows have one such figure, sat front row or taking a turn on the runway - thrown in for the hits. This womenswear show had them all. Lots of the boys were back - Dallas, Law, Lucky Blue - alongside Insta-friendly girls such as Chloe and Halle Bailey, Pyper America Smith, Sailor Brinkley Cook, Dylan Lee, Kenya Kinski-Jones, Harley Viera-Newton, Alexandra Richards and Princess Olympia of Greece. An actual princess - maybe that explains all the tiaras. If you can’t beat the millennials join them, eh? After all, the Dolce & Gabbana have suffered their fair share of criticism due to a lack of modernisation or innovation, especially when it comes to their clothes.
And what about the clothes? Well they don't really matter. This show unashamedly proved that the duo don't want the focus to be on their new collection, they want it to be on the lifestyle that surrounds it, the people who wear it. They're not trying to really take the criticism on board and modernise their clothes, they're simply creating a veneer of modernisation by recruiting very 'modern' aspects of showmanship. It was using the relevance of others to create a mask of contemporary spirit.
That said, it was a fantastic performance. And I was pleased to see that alongside all the teens and tweens, some of the house’s most committed clients were also booked to walk. That felt charming and in line with their commitment to 'family.' It was fabulous to watch in part due to deliberate planning - the sheer volume of looks, the sheer commitment to theatre and extravagance, and the real desire to give us a true 'performance'. But also in part due to the mistakes - the way the screens displaying all the cast’s names kept stopping and starting like a school PowerPoint presentation, the way the children on the runway misbehaved and appeared somewhat confused (one even elicited a cooing smile from Anna Wintour as she toddled passed the front row, glancing curiously at each inhabitant), and finally the way the finale procession faltered halfway down the runway. A pack of showily dressed figures with the combined Instagram following of probably a whole country stood awkwardly in the centre of a Milanese runway, unsure whether to move forward or backwards. But that tussle - between forward and back, progression and consistency - is exactly what Dolce & Gabbana themselves are dealing with. That human traffic jam, the awkward hold up, is a worthy symbol of their brand right now.
I watched the whole thing with a mixture of alarm and amusement. The show went on and on and on. More looks, more famous faces, more clinging dresses, more embellishment, more showy accessories. We were stuck in some strange sparkly purgatory. When it finally ended I felt like I'd seen things I couldn't unsee. I'd seen fashion through the eyes of those who don’t work in it and think it frivolous, wasteful, laughable yet oddly glamourous. As I left, I thought back to when we first entered the show space, before the models had been released, and the sound system was playing Justin Bieber's Sorry - how prophetic that was.