Lights, camera, real live audiences -- Milan fashion welcomes back actual people to its shows Friday, a sign the industry is ready to start turning the page on virtual formats adopted during the pandemic.
The numbers are still modest, with only Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Etro inviting an audience to their men's Spring/Summer 2022 collections. "This is the dress rehearsal of the return to normalcy," Federica Trotta Mureau, editor of the Italian fashion magazine Mia Le Journal, told AFP.
The shows represent baby steps but the effect of the live events, instead of the video presentations or short films relied on since early last year when coronavirus cut short the twice-yearly shows in Italy's business capital, would still be appreciated, Mureau said.
"The lights that go out and come back on, the music that sounds as soon as the first models come out... it's an emotion that digital cannot give us," she said.
Armani was the first in late May to announce the return of the public, after being the first to shut them out in February 2020.
"I'm scared, like everyone else," Giorgio Armani, 86, said as the pandemic swept through Italy last year.
Goodbye dull shades
The bulk of the 47 fashion shows taking place over five days will remain digital.
That was the case for Ermenegildo Zegna, which kicked off the shows on Friday with a virtual display featuring models wandering through labyrinths of greenery before returning to an urban concrete landscape.
"This marks a renaissance of luxury craftsmanship, a movement that liberates the man while preserving his uniqueness," said the brand's artistic director, Alessandro Sartori.
Fendi comes next, on Saturday; Prada's virtual show is due Sunday. Though still a small minority, the return of even the few in-person shows was "an important signal of recovery", according to Carlo Capasa, president of the National Chamber for Italian Fashion.
After months of stop-start measures, coronavirus restrictions in most of Italy have now been lifted thanks to falling infection rates, although masks are still compulsory in public and social distancing must be respected.
Capasa has estimated sales for the Italian fashion market will rise 17 percent this year to 80 billion euros ($95 billion), driven mostly by growth in China. Exports of "Made in Italy" fashion are expected to rise by 13 percent.
But only in 2022 will the country's fashion industry regain its pre-pandemic levels, especially since orders during the first months of 2021 have fallen below expectations.
Last year, revenue fell by 26 percent for the Italian industry, as stores shuttered and well-heeled tourists stayed home.
So what will Milan's men be wearing next year?
After the grey winter and the gloom of the pandemic, colours found in nature such as light green, ocean blue, terracotta, sunshine yellow or fire red should prevail, according to Mureau.
"Goodbye to sober colours and too punishing looks, the summer of 2022 in men's fashion will be marked by colour and exaggeration," she said.(AFP)