By Silvia Aloisi
ROZZANO, Italy (Reuters) - No air kissing and no hugs, a safely distanced front row and face masks were de rigueur as Dolce & Gabbana had to rewrite the rules of high-end fashion engagement with one of the first physical shows of the COVID-19 era on Wednesday.
Part of Milan's otherwise digital menswear fashion week, the open-air show was attended by guests wearing face masks as models strode down the catwalk and then stood in a garden a metre apart.
It was held on the university campus of the Humanitas medical research foundation, which is trying to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus - a project Dolce & Gabbana are helping to fund.
Together with another Italian brand, Etro, which also held a physical show with guests earlier on Wednesday, Dolce & Gabbana's was the first real-world fashion event by a major luxury label since the easing of lockdown restrictions in much of Europe.
Designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana had said in the run-up that it took them a long time to figure out whether organising such a show would be possible at all, but that they wanted to send a message of optimism and that Italy -- one of countries hardest hit by the pandemic -- is back in business.
As the health crisis forced luxury houses to shut shops and idle manufacturing sites, brands cancelled events or opted for audience-free, digital-only formats, such as the Paris Haute Couture showcase earlier this month.
Fashion weeks are a crucial moment for designers to showcase their creations with media and buyers, and both industry leaders Italy and France hope to hold back-to-normal events in September.
Inspired by the colours of the Amalfi Coast and its sea, Wednesday's Dolce & Gabbana spring/summer 2021 menswear show in Rozzano, south of Milan, featured 102 pieces of clothing in various shades of blue, some with prints of neoclassical statues.
It was attended by around 200, mostly Italian guests -- compared with 500 or more in normal times. The usual front row of A-list foreign celebrities and large Chinese contingent of buyers, media and influencers was kept away by coronavirus restrictions on travel.
Models did not wear masks on the catwalk -- the brand recently launched a collection of pajamas with matching face masks -- but the two designers did for their traditional end-of-show appearance.
The show, which had suppliers working for free and was aimed at supporting Humanitas' COVID-19 research, triggered a debate on Twitter about having a public gathering with many countries still under lockdown and lingering fears of a second wave of infections.
London-based veteran fashion journalist Luke Leitch, who made the trip to Milan, had no qualms.
"Milan feels secure, with masks and temperature checks prevalent. Great to see fashion and friends again," he said on Instagram.
(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Lisa Shumaker)