In their seminal work “Barbie Girl” from 1997, the musical group Aqua sang about a life in plastic: “It’s fantastic.” Pioneers of mid-’90s bubblegum pop, their cartoon revolution coincided with the prevalence of the internet. With lyrics like “imagination, life is your creation,” Aqua’s augmented reality was easily a precursor to social media and its animated digital truths. In 1998, Dolce & Gabbana dressed them for the World Music Awards, marrying the outlandish band with the brand most coveted by the decade’s youth. Nearly 25 years later—in a radical and invigorating change of direction—the designers are now devoting their collections to the e-girl/e-boy tribes of TikTok and its likes.
Dressed for the screen, with all the artificial colours, fake textures, and digitally enhanced features you could imagine, it’s a cyber-subculture that lives in the virtual reality Aqua once dreamed of. Those kids certainly look like the band, and so did Dolce & Gabbana’s collection. Something has come full circle. Exaggerated silhouettes forged in kaleidoscopic high-tech materials mimicked the anatomical amplification social media exercises to anime-like degree. Expressed in bionic shapes, some silhouettes evoked the armoured bustiers of the spring 2007 collection, itself a superhuman take on the designers’ corseted, black boudoir wardrobe of the ’90s.
Speckled with archival memories from that time, the show embraced present-day e-kids’ expressed nostalgia for a fashion era they never experienced, “’90s Supermodel” T-shirts in tow. For years, Gabbana said on a phone call from Milan, young people have been begging the designers to revisit their signature ’90s sexiness. This season, they finally gave in. Said Gabbana: “But the starting point is different. Today ‘sexy’ is the same word but with another value. In the ’90s, you’d dress sexy for other people. Now, the young generations dress sexy for themselves, because they love it. It’s kind of a new hedonism.”
In these digital pandemic times, that fact is relentlessly represented in thirsty confinement selfies on social media, shot on camera timers and Facetune-d and filtered beyond the bounds of the human body. Whether or not those ego exercises are solely done for personal gaze is arguable. But for all its youth-centricity, Dolce & Gabbana’s new direction isn’t pandering blindly to the digital generations. “The most important thing about technology is humans. Humans make technology. It’s handmade,” Gabbana said. His newly Smurf-blue hair—“I had it 25 years ago!”—matched that of Aqua’s mid-’90s Eurodance contemporaries Eiffel 65.
The video for their evergreen “I’m Blue (Da Ba De)”—about a blue man who lives in all-blue world—featured an animated character that looked a lot like the robot that appeared on Dolce & Gabbana’s runway today. It was a collaboration with the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, which works on improving everything from the medical sector to solving the environmental crisis through technology, something Gabbana said is vital in the post-pandemic world. The robot is also featured in a promo film where the designers taught it to sketch dresses, a plain-hidden call for the digital generations not to forget the values of the human hand.
In fact, the designers had employed technological evolution to develop real, tactile fabrics that brought the look of virtual reality into the material world, morphing wools with plastics and vegan things too. Like last month’s men’s show, which launched this new direction, some of the more ingenious results of Dolce and Gabbana’s research were their technological—or perhaps futuristic—adaptations of the heritage icons of fashion. One bouclé jacket had been digitised through glistening patchwork that looked like pixels; another was wrapped in ladylike necklaces like they were cords.
Throughout the collection, garments and jewellery and embellishments had been supersized for a digital mentality in which everything has to jump through the screen. Models wore clear visor glasses: the world forever seen through a filter. Augmented reality impacting our shopping mentality is a matter of evolution, but you often got the feeling this collection was more of a comment on our digital lives—a social magnifying glass—than a literal proposal. As Gabbana said, “We’ve tried to do experimental things. Maybe it’s not okay immediately for now; maybe it’ll be okay in two or three years’ time. But it’s our reflection on today.”
This article was originally published on Vogue.com