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Designers from DSquared2 welcome the fashion crowd back to Milan

Omicron rise required Milan Fashion Week menswear previews for Fall-Winter 2022-23 to be reduced curtailed

Designers from DSquared2 welcome the fashion crowd back to Milan

Guests, including Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, were greeted warmly by Dean and Dan Caten on Friday for the Canadian designer twins' first live show in two years, as Milan Fashion Week began with a ray of hope despite an omicron-curtailed calendar.

"The big deal is in this room," they told the crowd in impromptu remarks ahead of the show for their DSquared2 label. "Thank you for being here, and supporting us in our decision to do a physical show. For us, this is a step forward."

"It feels amazing to be back," the twins said before revealing a bright and cosy Canadian mash-up of puffer coats, padded shorts over jeans, and delicate wool blankets — perfect for getting back out in the open-air mix and away from the rushing masses.

The omicron variant rise required Milan Fashion Week menswear previews for Fall-Winter 2022-23 to be reduced curtailed, with far fewer events than scheduled. As Italy's virus infection tally approaches record highs virtually everyday, access to them was severely curtailed by pandemic restrictions.

Live presentations will continue to be held by global powerhouses such as Fendi, Dolce&Gabbana, and Prada, but Milan mainstay Giorgio Armani has discontinued all runway shows and other labels have abandoned runway shows in favour of digital. The number of live events has been cut by a fifth, with only 15 live runway shows remaining with physical presentations.

It's a far cry from last year's delta surge, which resulted in the closure of all Milan runways.

"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."

As the epidemic continues to cast a pall over Europe, Paris has announced a pared-down schedule of runway shows from January 18 to 23, followed by haute couture, while London has cancelled its January schedule, which will be replaced by women's previews in February.

For the Zegna preview in Milan, the fashion throng was stunned to find themselves in auditorium seating facing a maxi-screen.

Rather than the anticipated live runway show, creative director Alessandro Sartori exhibited a 15-minute film of models dressed in off-whites, blacks, and greys against a wintry road in the Zegna family's Oasi natural reserve in Piedmont. He then gave a technological demonstration of the new aesthetics using live models.

"This is 10% live and 90% virtual," Sartori told guests. "It would have been the other way around if we hadn't had these problems," he said, referring to the latest virus surge to arise in seemingly perfect symphony with the fashion calendar.

With its recent public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, Zegna is rebranding, eliminating the first name of founder Ermenegildo Zegna from its official name and unifying its three divisions to stimulate future growth. The new design, which is reminiscent of a road with yellow lane markers, represents both the main road through the family reserve and the road ahead.

"I am sure that regardless of the bloody Covid, it will work out," Gildo Zegna, brand CEO, said defiantly.

Sartori has reimagined the suit for younger customers, with a softly cut outer jacket layered over a larger tunic coat and pants, all in different weights of complementary fabrics. They're linked by a cashmere mock turtleneck. Buyers of Sartori's luxury menswear line will, in Sartori's vision, build their wardrobe season after season, adding new pieces with the mainstay colour palette of off-white, black, and flannel grey, offset this season by aubergine and a burnt umber shade he named vicuna, after the camelid raised for its valuable wool.

The DSquared2 collection, on the other hand, beckoned for the road in a more practical, devil-may-care sense. Cropped puffers, pleated plaid skirt tails, and sparkly shorts suggested hippies still looking for a Grateful Dead touring gig, but content to pass the time rock climbing or trudging through snow with removable crampons and a water bottle tucked in a front pocket.

Unlike another Milan brand, the Canadians did not require an outdoor brand alliance to demonstrate that the outdoors is in their DNA.

Federico Cina established his label right before the pandemic, so it's only fitting that he made his runway debut while the virus was still spreading. Free-falling cable-knit or ribbed knitwear layers easily over wide-legged jeans in this long silhouette. The runway debut collection featured a leaf theme inspired by a wood-print from the Emilia-Romagna region's coastal zones.

"I never thought of giving up," Cina said backstage. "Especially as the fashion chamber is giving me this moment of visibility during Milan Fashion Week. It is just huge. I never thought of not doing the show, especially with the right precautions."

Since the first locally transmitted instance of the virus in the West in the middle of fashion week in February 2020, the Italian fashion world has been shaken by the epidemic. Armani was the first to close his showroom to the public, broadcasting the Fall-Winter 2020-21 collection from an empty auditorium.

With a few live runway outliers, the digital trend lasted until last September's womenswear previews for spring-summer 2022, when vaccination rates signalled a return to live shows as the norm, albeit with limited numbers and social distance. That was enough to entice fashionistas to return to the runway in numbers closer to pre-pandemic levels, when they could see for themselves if that glistening fabric was silk or satin.

Due to travel limitations and fears, several editors and buyers who had planned to travel to Milan this month, mainly from the United States, cancelled, according to Capasa. Furthermore, large parts of Asia and Eastern Europe – significant fashion markets — are delivering vaccinations that have not been approved by European health authorities, restricting travel to these regions.

According to current health regulations, fashion companies must provide four square metres (slightly over 40 square metres) for each guest – a space that could formerly seat up to eight people. Even if fewer individuals are travelling, this often means a tenth of the pre-pandemic audience, necessitating severe decisions. FFP2 masks will be required in greater numbers.

The pandemic is already in its ninth season in terms of fashion. Capasa was pleased to report that no outbreaks had been linked 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."

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