DSquared2 designers welcome fashion crowd back to Milan

MILAN — (AP) — Dean and Dan Caten gave a heart-felt welcome to the guests, including Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, assembled Friday for the Canadian designing twins' first live show in two years as Milan Fashion Week opened with a glimmer of optimism 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 has been two long years, and it feels great to be back,'' the twins intoned, before unveiling a colorful and cozy Canadian mash-up of puffer coats, quilted shorts over jeans, layered with delicate wool blankets — just the ticket for getting back out in the open-air mix and away from the surging crowds.

The spike in the omicron variant forced Milan Fashion Week menswear previews for Fall-Winter 2022-23 to be scaled back, with significantly fewer events than initially planned. Access to those was severely limited by pandemic restrictions as Italy's virus infection tally hits record highs almost daily.

Global powerhouses like Fendi, Dolce&Gabbana and Prada will still host live shows, while 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 some 15 live runway shows going ahead alongside physical presentations.

It is a far cry from last year’s delta surge, when the Milan runways were closed altogether.

“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 pandemic continues to shadow Europe, Paris also has confirmed 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.

In Milan, the fashion crowd was surprised to find itself in auditorium seating facing a maxi-screen for the Zegna preview.

Instead of the live runway show many expected, creative director Alessandro Sartori showed a 15-minute video of models dressed in mainstay off-whites, black and grays against a snowy road in the Zegna family's Oasi natural reserve in neighboring Piedmont. He followed up with a technical presentation of the new looks with 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.

Zegna is rebranding, dropping the first name of founder Ermenegildo Zegna from its official name and merging its three lines, alongside its recent public listing on the New York Stock Exchange to fuel future growth. The new logo — evoking road with yellow lane markings — signifies the main road through the family reserve, but also the road ahead.

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

Sartori has reinvisioned the suit for younger clients, offering softly tailored outer jacket, layered over with a longer tunic coat and trousers, all in matching fabrics of differing weights. A cashmere mock turtleneck unites them. In Sartori's vision, buyers of the luxury menswear line will build their wardrobe season after season, adding new pieces with the mainstay color palette in off-white, black and flannel gray, offset this season by aubergine and a burnt umber shade he called vicuna, for the camelid raised for its precious wool.

By contrast, the DSquared2 collection beckoned for the road in a more prosaic, devil-may-care way. The layered looks, featuring cropped puffers, pleated plaid skirt tails and sequined shorts, suggested hippies still in search of a Grateful Dead traveling show, but happy to pass the time rock climbing or trekking through snow with the aid of removable crampons, water bottle shoved in a front pocket.

The Canadians needed no outdoor brand partnership to show that the wilderness is in their DNA — unlike another Milan brand.

Federico Cina launched his brand just before the pandemic hit, so it is perhaps fitting he made his runway debut as the virus continued its grip. The long silhouette features free-falling cable-knit or ribbed knitwear that layer easily over wide-legged pants. The runway debut collection featured a leaf motif, taken from a wood-print from the coastal zones of the Emilia-Romagna region.

“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."

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.

Under current health guidelines, fashion houses must allow for every guest four square meters (just over 40 square meters) — a space that previously might have sat 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. More protective FFP2 masks are being required.

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.”