Welcome to the Dolce e Gabbana dungeon. It┐s a black padded cell in which a posse of amazons stands frozen in classic lesbian S&M poses, silver spanking crops at the ready. This is the tableau that turned on a dais at the end of the runway in the Metropol theater, the venue in which the designers installed themselves last year. Trust the transgressive ebullience of Dolce & Gabbana to bring up sex and in-your-face glamour. Forget the fact that most everyone else has their heads down concentrating on modesty and sobriety—these two have never had any truck with that. And neither, frankly, has the massive customer base they┐ve built: Their billion-dollar turnover says so.

The show was one major performance, with wave after wave of metallic bustier dresses, hard-corseted belts, metal eye masks, latex-look dresses, see-through lace, studded coats—a veritable catalog of the kind of porn-chic material pioneered by Madonna in her Sex book of the early nineties (and it was she, indeed, who was panting Erotic on the sound track). The vice device didn┐t totally obscure the fact that this collection did have a day base untouched by kink. There was a great, mannish-shouldered pantsuit and luscious coats—including a puffy satin parka—in there, and an excellent pair of the season┐s high-waisted seventies pants that were testament to Domenico Dolce┐s inimitable cutting skills.

After a while, of course, the theme took over, especially during the long buildup to the finale of no less than 13 crystal-mesh gowns, some of them giving a clear view to the underwear. This has become a seasonal ritual by now. It has undoubtedly established Dolce & Gabbana as the biggest, flashiest show on the Milan calendar, and its publicity will penetrate parts of the media that could care less about fashion. You have to hand it to them for that. But there┐s something about designing to fill the podium of this new theater-auditorium that can be distancing to the fashion-sensitive. Some are beginning to pine for the intimacy of the days when Dolce & Gabbana would pitch a tent outside their home, invite people in, settle them down with a snack and a drink, and let them enjoy watching Gisele et al. cavorting at eye level, while inspecting every stitch of what they do so well. If they could recapture some of that, everyone would be happy.