Corset

by Alexander Fury .

When you think of Italian fashion, you think of Dolce e Gabbana. And when you think of Dolce e Gabbana, you think of garments just like this: intricately decorated, ornate as a Renaissance cathedral, structured, sensual, and for some palettes a little too much. Then again, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have built a career around that idea of 'Basta' fashion - with a frisson of wilful, witty vulgarity spicing their shows from the eighties onwards.

These glittering more-is-more jewel-encrusted corsets have been standard Dolce e Gabbana fare since their A/W 1991 collection, dedicated to La Dolce Vita and old-school Hollywood pin-ups. Bernadine Morris, then fashion critic for the International Herald Tribune, questioned if this was clothing for liberated women or for sex objects, a debate that still has relevance today.

The corset itself is a combination of high-tech and old-school - wrapped in tulle, boned in sprung steel, adorned with metallic charms, but fastened at the back with a sturdy industrial zip.

In the nineteenth century, whilst a lady's maid would help her into her complicated layers of clothing, a husband reserved the right to lace and unlace his wife's stays - and it was said that a man could tell if his wife had been unfaithful by checking the lacing of her corset as he unfastened it in the evening. Today, however, the Dolce e Gabbana woman zips herself into her own corset - this is a prime example of fashion reclaiming attire from history and reinventing it as modern apparel. To return to Bernadine Morris' question, this is fashion for women who are simultaneously liberated and sex objects. Dolce e Gabbana's woman chooses to don this reworking of showgirl attire.

Yves Saint Laurent once said he thought of women as idols. Dolce e Gabbana have taken that one step further - rather than referencing Hollywood icons, their glittering, totem-hung basque recalls the gold-strewn Madonnas adorning provincial Italian churches - and Dolce e Gabbana are, of course, obsessed with their Italian heritage. 

The silhouette of this corset is quintessentially Italian - that is, as curvy as Sophia Loren after a bowl of spaghetti. Rather than the traditional rake-thin outline of modern fashion, it is emphatically old-fashioned and curvaceous - actually padded across the hips to create a resolutely old-fashioned silhouette.

What then is the meaning of this corset in a post-Feminist fashion landscape? It is, after all, designed by two men - and many would argue, created for the visual consumption of other men. But those ideas of the sex that looks and the sex that is looked at are far more old-fashioned than this garment's silhouette. Dolce e Gabbana cannot be called feminists, but they certainly love an empowered female. And the all-powerful matriarch is just as Italian a tradition as pasta or basta. 

Rather than trussing a vulnerable model-type up in their seductive tailoring, they chose Madonna as the face of their A/W advertising campaign, and it's difficult to think of a more assertive and confident front woman. For Dolce and Gabbana, the restriction  of this corset is always physical and never mental.