A finite-strain study in the central and northern Gran Paradiso massif of the Italian Western Alps has been carried out to elucidate whether ductile strain shows a relationship to nappe contacts and to shed light on the nature of the subhorizontal foliation typical of the gneiss nappes in the Alps. The Rf/φ and Fry methods were used on feldspar porphyroclasts from 98 samples of the Gran Paradiso unit (upper tectonic unit of the Gran Paradiso massif) and 12 samples from the underlying Erfaulet unit (lower unit of the Gran Paradiso massif). Microstructures and thermobarometric data show that feldspar ductility at temperatures higher than c. 450 °C occurred only during high-pressure metamorphism, when the rocks were underplated beneath the overriding Adriatic plate. Therefore, the finite-strain data can be related to high-pressure metamorphism in the Alpine subduction zone. The augen gneiss was heterogeneously deformed and axial ratios of the strain ellipse in xz sections range from 2.1 to 69.8. The long axes of the finite-strain ellipsoids trend west–WNW and the short axes are subvertical, associated with a subhorizontal foliation. The strain magnitudes do not increase towards the nappe contacts. The data indicate flattening strain type in the Gran Paradiso unit and constrictional strain type in the Erfaulet unit and prove deviations from simple shear. We conclude that nappe stacking occurred early during subduction probably by brittle imbrication and that ductile strain was superimposed on and modified the nappe structure during high-pressure underplating in the Alpine subduction zone. The accumulation of ductile strain during underplating was not by simple shear and involved a component of vertical shortening, which caused the subhorizontal foliation in the Gran Paradiso massif.