Fashion falls victim to the Coronavírus

With a reduced audience and cancellation of important shows, London, Milan and Paris stumble on the catwalk.

Marcio Delgado@marcio_delgado

When Marine Serre opened the second day of Paris Fashion Week last Tuesday (25th February) with models wearing masks, the audience could barely remember that the 28-year-old French designer had already used the same accessory while showcasing other collections. And, although her presentation was innocently planned well before the Coronavirus spread across Europe, the autumn-winter 2020 show seemed to have jumped straight from the news to the catwalks. Over the past few days, in France, antibacterial gels and face masks have become items regularly distributed in between fashion shows.

Last stop on the European fashion calendar, and home to brands such as Givenchy, Chanel and Lanvin - one of the oldest French haute couture brands, founded in 1889 - Paris is inheriting a panicked audience caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 in February. This same panicked audience had witnessed the announcement of Italian victims, coinciding with Milan hosting its fashion week. These announcements prompted event organizers to cancel the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana e Camera Buyer Italia “Fashion Hub Award”, planned to take place on February 23rd , as well as the ‘Emerging Designers Market Day’ scheduled for the following day. The shows of Japanese designer Atsushi Nakashima, who has been showcasing in Milan for the past nine seasons; and, Portuguese designer Alexandra Moura’s catwalk, scheduled for the last day of the Italian fashion week, also went down the drain. Italy would soon become one of the countries worst affected, outside of China, with its death toll totalling 52 victims within days.

In an official communication sent to the press over the last weekend of February, the National Chamber for Italian Fashion announced that ‘some brands decided to run their shows behind closed doors, others decided to keep the fashion shows open but only for a limited number of professionals, to allow the brands to not lose all the hard work carried out over the last months’.

A catwalk show in an empty room for an online audience keeping theirs germs to themselves, far away from the next season’s luxury items, was the choice of Giorgio Armani. It was the first time in the 45 years of its history that the Italian fashion house, founded in 1975, has cancelled a live event with the usual presence of buyers, press and guests; instead, opting to simply broadcast it over the internet through its Instagram and Facebook accounts, instead.

Fashion in London is also impacted - it wasn't just Paris and Milan that had their fashion weeks adapted in a hurry due to the virus that, so far, has already infected almost 100.000 peope around the world.

“Our thoughts are with those affected by coronavirus, unable to travel,” the British Fashion Council chief executive, Caroline Rush, said in her opening speech, in which she announced plans to ensure the Chinese media and buyers had access to fashion news and images.

The absence of a significant portion of the Chinese media and buyers at London Fashion Week - which also has 2,500 visitors who buy tickets to the event - is something that could be felt in fashion brands’ pockets very soon, given that China is responsible for a third of luxury goods sold around the world. It is a direct contribution to a gloomier projection of the extent to which the coronavirus epidemic could cost the fashion industry globally in 2020. According to a recent report from investment management firm Bernstein, in partnership with Boston Consulting Group, a survey of 28 senior executives from a selection of luxury brands found the loss in sales could amount to as much as $43 billion.

The expected chain reaction will likely be caused by production lines being impacted by the virus, and consumers swapping trips abroad and shopping therapy in crowded malls for home isolation and safer away from possible contamination.

Even those who managed to bypass the epidemic in the name of fashion did not escape the challenges caused by the virus first reported from Wuhan, China, on December 2019.

Chinese fashion designer Yuhan Wang, who lives in London and opened the capital's fashion week on 14th February, had to cut and adapt her show because one of the factories in China that supplies her handmade trims had its activities cancelled due to the virus. Meanwhile, Central Saint Martin alumni Sai Ta, who incorporates details of Chinese and Vietnamese cultures in his creations, was also left out of London Fashion Week’s calendar, having to cancel the show of his brand, Asai, due to delays in a Shanghai factory.

Paris Fashion Week ended on Tuesday (3rd March) with fashion shows by French brands Chanel, Lacoste and Louis Vuitton.


Photo: Sami Boudjelti