An operatic pop trio belted out song from the centre of a medical university plaza on Wednesday, while Dolce & Gabbana's showed its latest men's collection in tones of summer blues and geometric prints.
Just five months ago, there would have been little remarkable in such a scene.
But the coronavirus pandemic has largely put the kibosh on live fashion shows – with most fashion houses going digital to launch their summer collections for next year in both Milan this week and Paris last.
Also working against the fashion show ritual, cross-border travel has become difficult, if not impossible. Shoulder-to-shoulder seating is definitely out.
With these restrictions, the energy seems to have gone from fashion. Even if events have always been invitation only, even if they were marked by cramped seating and endless waiting for 15 minutes of flash, there was buzz. The live event – even for those who lived it secondhand – created its own excitement, something that has become excessively obvious in its absence.
In recent times, designers have experimented with skipping seasons, or merging men’s and women’s collections, both sure signs of ennui with the fashion drumbeat. But the coronavirus lockdowns and the push to digital platforms have only reinforced the role that the physical runway show plays in the wider system.
"The digital can’t substitute the live shows," Carlo Capasa, president of Italy’s National Fashion Chamber said after the Dolce & Gabbana show, which also marked the designers’ resumption of membership in the organising body. “This live show gave more substance to fashion week.’’
The experience has convinced designers that the next round in September needs to be live as much as possible, he said. ‘"They will be smaller, with fewer people, maintaining distance, but we will try to do shows with all the necessary measures," Capasa said.
Dolce & Gabbana invited a fashion crowd that was a fraction of its usual size to the campus of the Humanitas University, where the designers are funding research into how the immune system reacts to the coronavirus, part of efforts to find a vaccine. The funding, announced in February before the coronavirus was identified in Europe, is ongoing.
Coincidentally, Dolce & Gabbana was the last fashion house to host a show in Milan after the first domestically transmitted case was identified just an hour from the Italian fashion capital while the fashion world was gathered for fashion week.
This time, show attendees had their temperatures taken and were asked to use gel sanitiser before taking their open-air seats, all socially distanced. Masks remained de rigueur.
For anyone missing luxury travel: The duo’s latest collection was inspired by striking geometric ceramic patterns at the Parco dei Principi Hotel in Sorrento, designed in 1960 by Gio Ponti.
With a palette of sea blues, the designers created an easy summer collection of oversized jackets with unfinished edges over baggy trousers, patchwork denim looks and cropped pants with tunics. Geometric forms offset by images of neoclassical statues were the collection’s motifs. Tailoring was mostly casual, with suit jackets sometimes incorporating knit panels, and the patchwork of denims gave the collection an edgy, street feel.
In a final nod to the changes brought by the pandemic, both Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana wore surgical-type masks as they took their runway turn, as the Italian trio Il Volo, serenaded the crowd with the classic Volare.