Designers, models and fashionistas flocked to Madrid on Thursday where Europe’s first major fashion week is being held in front of an audience for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Madrid kicked off, taking the sector’s first step toward normalcy after a devastating year for the fashion industry.

“The digital format is here to stay but our goal is to bring back in-person events when the health situation permits,” the show’s director Nuria de Miguel told the El Pais newspaper.

It is not entirely back to pre-pandemic times as audiences around catwalks will be limited to around 190 people, around 24% of total capacity, to ensure social distancing.

The event will also provide FFP2 masks to everyone involved and make employees take rapid tests. Seven shows will be held exclusively online.

Most of the 22 runway shows are taking place at IFEMA, Madrid’s main convention center, which was the site of the country’s largest pandemic field hospital less than a year ago.

“Our goal is to energize the entire fashion sector. The fact that the designers want to keep having in-person runways despite how tough this last year has been demonstrating that these shows are important for sales, communication and visibility,” said de Miguel.

According to the Spanish fashion association, Acotex, Spain’s fashion sector saw sales plummet 47% in the year leading up to February 2021.

“The bans on getting together in large groups of people for lunches and dinners and the virtual absence of events and celebrations does not encourage people to buy dresses, suits, or accessories that they will not have the chance to show off,” the association said on its website.

The Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Madrid and the subsequent Madrid Es Moda event have the support of the local government, despite rising coronavirus infections.

The region of Madrid reported 2,790 new cases on Thursday, up by more than 200 from the same day last week.

The capital region’s intensive care units are under more pressure than anywhere else in the country, with 38% of available beds currently occupied by COVID-19 patients.