Most visible, perhaps, is the effects of the Coronavirus on large gatherings; schools in Italy have been shut, Chinese new year celebrations were called off in many cities, and the Tokyo summer Olympics are even under threat. In the fashion world, the wave of international fashion weeks is being curbed by the spread of the disease. During Paris Fashion Week, for instance, the quintessential air kiss has seen a decline and has instead been replaced by a brief upper-arm squeeze – a way of avoiding direct skin-to-skin contact, if one if wearing a top with sleeves, and more informal than a handshake.
It’s hard to ignore the sudden influx of face masks, and fashion shows are no different. The Maison Margiela show in Paris saw violet tulle masks on the catwalk, while the Marine Serre show presented glittery balaclava-like masks equivalents. Audience members have even been offered masks to wear during some of the shows, such as Dries Van Noten and Paco Rabanne. And the fashion industry has once again shown that anything can be glammed up with a bit of colour, as the Airinum Urban Air Mask 2.0, sported by Gwyneth Paltrow, has sold out worldwide in onyx black, pearl pink and quartz grey despite its hefty price tag of £54.
Guidance on the amount of protection provided by face masks are, however, limited, and some labels have instead completely chosen to cancel their Paris shows out of fear of the virus spreading at such public gatherings. French label Agnès and five Chinese brands have cancelled their Paris shows, alongside a karaoke party hosted by Net-a-Porter and a party at the Ritz for the New York brand LoveShackFancy.
Following the dramatic rise in cases in northern Italy, however, the Milan fashion week was hit much harder by fears of the virus. Giorgio Armani cancelled invitations to his catwalk show with less than 24 hours’ notice, choosing to host the event in the same venue but without an audience and instead encouraging guests to live-stream the show from their hotels, and Mr Armani even bowed at the end to an audience of empty seats. This month’s fashion weeks in Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo have been cancelled, and endeavours are being made to produce online alternatives. Many shows in the US and elsewhere are also being cancelled or postponed.
The devastation the fashion industry has faced hasn’t been just limited to fashion shows, however; Chinese consumers constitute around 40% of consumers for luxury fashion houses, and many big brands have seen their sales fall. The outbreak’s cost to the worldwide luxury industry in 2020 could be $43bn in sales, according to research by The Bernstein and Boston Consulting Group, and the spread of the disease in Italy is leaving its $100 billion-plus fashion industry increasingly threatened. Burberry has closed a third of its 64 Chinese stores, and those that do remain open have reduced hours because shopper numbers in the country have fallen by 80%.
The outbreak of the Coronavirus has led to falls not only in consumption but also in production; China is the world’s biggest clothing manufacturer, producing over a third of all textiles, but many factories have now closed and international trade has been limited, including the transit of fashion products. This could lead to a drop in supply for many high street retailers, leading some experts to speculate whether companies may pull their production in China altogether. Outside of China, Armani has temporarily closed its offices and plants in northern Italy, and many clothes shops in China remain shut. GAP closed five of its store in the country back in January, H&M and Adidas have seen many branch closures, and roughly half of all Uniqlo stores in China have been shut.
Experts speculate whether companies may pull their production in China altogether
Even journalists are being affected; Hearst Magazines, which covers Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Good Housekeeping among others, has advised its fashion writers in Italy to work from home.
The effects of the Coronavirus are permeating every aspect of the fashion industry, and while cases of the disease continue to climb the future of the fashion industry remains certain.