Each spring, the luxury fashion powers of the world present their new Fall/Winter collections in February and early March; however, after the COVID-19 outbreak, the fashion industry had a very different appearance in Paris and Milan. Traditionally, European fashion week has followed the traditional format of ornate, elaborate and exciting runway shows with crowds of people lining the catwalk and thousands of others standing in the streets to catch the exciting action. When the coronavirus broke out early January in Wuhan, China, no one was expecting it to reach the magnitude that it has, but luxury designers anticipated adaptation as Italy’s outbreak forced some to close their doors or even cancel.
As fashion week travels from New York to London to Milan, and ends in Paris, there are usually hoards of paparazzi, reporters, fashion designers, models and big names in fashion who follow. This proved to be a serious challenge as fashion week descended upon Milan in the same time frame that COVID-19, more colloquially known as Coronavirus, infected Italy. At the time, Italy was the country that had the highest infection rates outside of Asia. The virus is most notably known for its ability to infect through community transmission, so with thousands and thousands of the fashion industry’s top figureheads grouping together, people were worried.
The first distinct change to Milan Fashion Week came from Giorgio Armani’s collection, which was debuted behind close doors. The models strutted down a glorious catwalk in an empty theater and was instead a live-streamed event. In an official statement, the brand said: “The Women’s FW20-21 fashion show will be held behind closed doors. This is a preventative measure decided by Mr. Armani to support national efforts in safeguarding public health.” After the 16-minute broadcast, Giorgio Armani bowed for his online audience. Since the closing of Armani’s show on Feb. 24, the number of cases in Italy has grown to almost 6,000 with the entire region of Lombardy on serious quarantine lockdown.
You can watch Armani’s FW20-21 Show live streamed below.
Other large fashion brands including Moncler and Michael Kors decided to cancel large fashion events while showrooms and boutiques saw a diminished turnout. Off-White even sold out of their $95 fashion statement non-medical grade face masks. The outbreak has put the entire fashion industry on an unforseen hold as the global community stands back and takes extra precautions to stay safe.
As Paris Fashion Week approached — and the number of cases and deaths grew across the world — there was also a distinct change felt by the end of the week. On the first day of the Paris Fashion Week shows, the number of reported cases of coronavirus in France was just 14, but by the last day, it climbed to more than 200. The country of France has since banned gatherings of more than 5,000 people in confined spaces in order to scale back the probability of widespread communal infection.
The largest of the shows were attended by up to 1,000 guests, while another show took place in a sealed plastic tube. There were clear signs of cancellations and an overall drawback as reporters and designers withheld from post-show meet-and-greets and extended handshakes over the usual cheek-to-cheek hellos. Face masks adorned the streetwear looks as passersby, models and influencers made a statement about their own personal health in an effort to stay as healthy as possible.
However, as Pascal Morand, the executive president of the Fédération Française de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, said to The New York Times: “Empty seats at shows are not the problem — it is what is happening in showrooms, the holdups in the supply chains and what they might mean. It is the uncertainty and not knowing how long the situation will last.”
Overall, there has been a distinct drop in retail sales, as well as retail production, as thousands of stores have temporarily closed their doors and Chinese factories have halted production. How the fashion world is being impacted reflects the overall economic scare in the world, as uncertainty and unpredictability caused firms to withdraw their investments and borrowers to borrow less.
Everyone is scared. There is no knowing when the coronavirus scares will end; however, it is imperative to remember that a world in fear is never a time to point blame and hatred for a universal disaster. Each person is feeling the effect of the unknown pandemic, but now more than ever, there must be empathy, respect and care for those suffering. The future, although fearful, is not bleak.