Where the Wealthy Buy Gold-Dipped Coats
Sandro Botticelli’s painting Madonna del Padiglione depicts the Virgin Mary joined by an abundance of angels with perfect Timothée Chalamet hair in a scene that represents the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy: the birth of Christ to the Virgin. Seated in front of this Italian Renaissance master’s work, hanging on the second floor of Milan’s Pinacoteca Ambrosiana museum, is Scott Hershman. His attention is not trained on this 15th-century masterpiece at the moment because he has just spotted a sweatshirt embroidered with a crystal-studded lion he would like to buy. “It’s a piece of art,” he says.
Hershman, a Manhattan-based lawyer, isn’t in Milan to view the very best art the 1400s have to offer, but is seated in the Pinacoteca for a fashion show put on exclusively for the very best global clients of Dolce & Gabbana. Ostensibly he and about 300 other big spenders flew in from all over the world earlier this week for Alta Moda, which includes a men’s fashion spectacle known as Alta Sartoria. But the multiday event also includes an itinerary of elaborate meals, seats at the opera, and finally a glamorous party on Sunday night where clients get to flaunt their new, hot-off-the-runway purchases. Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Sartoria, which the label has been running since 2015, ingeniously convenes top-tier customers around a massive shopping bonanza. It treats the company’s best clients to a weekend of culture and fashion and is a strategy the brand’s designers envision expanding. “I would love to make a show for the normal people, to make an experience,” says designer Stefano Gabbana, in front of a mural of Christ being crowned, in the museum’s lower level just before the start of the Alta Sartoria show. In the meantime, though, this is how the most fabulously rich shop.
This is no ordinary runway show. These are examples of Dolce & Gabbana’s rarest and most lavish pieces—all are one of a kind. There are jackets covered with feathers plucked from multicolored Lady Amherst’s pheasants, coats with lapels made out of mink or dipped in 24-karat gold, and trenches with crisscrossing strips of snakeskin leather. The show represents an opportunity for Gabbana and his business partner, Domenico Dolce, to use the richest of ingredients, knowing they have a clientele that won’t flinch at the price tags. Models walk the gallery floor styled in these and other ornate garments, while Hershman and the other guests sit in rapt attention, compiling their wish lists. Some guests record the entire show on their phones to review later. Others take pictures, which they text to their designated D&G contact to call dibs. The most cunning among them get a preview before the show to lay claim before anyone else can even say buongiorno.
Hershman knows his prize when he sees it on the runway. “Put this aside,” he texts his representative, and sends a photo of the red sweatshirt with brocade fabric, velvet sleeves, and the image of a roaring lion sewn with silver thread—a technique with a name that sounds like a top-shelf pasta shape: canottiglia.
A lunch of veal milanese follows the show at the restaurant inside Dolce & Gabbana’s flagship store, but Hershman stays only briefly before stepping into a rear building where all the Alta Sartoria looks have already been arranged in an opulent salon. “It’s a good thing you told us, because people wanted it,” a Dolce & Gabbana employee tells him of the sweatshirt on his arrival. Tailoring happens instantly, right there in the showroom. The sleeves are shortened; then, since the sweatshirt is a pullover, they discuss adding zippers to the side seams for easier entry, though ultimately Hershman decides against this.
At the same salon the next morning, Gabriel Chiu, a plastic surgeon from Beverly Hills, eyes a feathered jacket, debating whether or not he could wear it to work. “A little flamboyant, even for Beverly Hills,” Chiu says. “But still…”