Milan fashion houses were charting a path out of the pandemic that included a menswear calendar this month packed with enough live events to entice fashionistas to once again book trans-Atlantic flights. But that was before the omicron surge.
Milan Fashion Week previews for Fall-Winter 2022-23 open Friday with significantly fewer physical events than initially planned, and access to those is severely limited by pandemic restrictions as Italy’s virus infection tally hit record highs almost daily.
Global powerhouses like Zegna, Fendi, Dolce&Gabbana and Prada will still host live shows, but Milan mainstay Giorgio Armani canceled entirely and other brands scrapped runway shows for digital. The more than 40 planned live events have been reduced by one-quarter, with 16 live runway shows going ahead alongside physical presentations.
“The positive thing is that many important brands decided to hold runway shows, and this is a good sign,’’ said Carlo Capasa, the president of the Italian National Fashion Chamber. “Fashion is the second most important industry in Italy. It is important to remember that we must live with this virus, and that we have to find a way to protect people’s health while also continuing to work, to allow this industry to continue to work.”
Paris also is confirming a slimmed-down selection of runway shows Jan. 18-23, followed by haute couture, while London canceled its January calendar, which will be combined with women’s previews in February.
The Italian fashion scene has been buffeted by the pandemic since Italy recorded the first locally transmitted case of the virus in the West during in the middle of fashion week in February 2020. Armani was the first to close his showroom to a live audience, streaming the Fall-Winter 2020-21 collection from an empty theater.
The digital trend continued, with a handful of live runway exceptions, until last September’s womenswear previews for spring-summer 2022, when vaccination rates heralded a return to live shows as the rule, albeit with limited numbers and social distancing. That was enough to offer promises that fashionistas in something closer to pre-pandemic numbers could once again pack runway seating, where they might discern first hand whether that shimmering fabric is silk or satin.
For this edition, travel restrictions and concerns mean that many editors and buyers who had intended to travel to Milan this month canceled, particularly from the United States, Capasa said. In addition, swaths of Asia and eastern Europe — important fashion markets — are administering vaccinations not approved by European health authorities, limiting travel to Italy.
To engage those who do make the trip, luxury brands like Brunello Cucinelli and Kiton have added physical presentations to their digital shows.
Under current health guidelines, fashion houses must allow for every guest four square meters (just over 40 square meters) — a space that previously might sit as many as eight. In many cases, that means something like one-tenth of the pre-pandemic audience, requiring tough calls even if fewer people are traveling.
In addition, more protective FFP2 masks are required, and rapid tests will be available to those wanting. Venues will be fully disinfected before the shows.
In fashion terms, the pandemic is now in its eighth season. Capasa noted with satisfaction that no outbreaks have ever been traced to fashion week.
“We must learn to live with this virus, and maintain a high guard on behaviors,’’ Capasa said. “If we learned anything, it is that we need to think very quickly and adapt to the situation.”