Fashion weeks in New York, London, Paris and Milan — at which the luxury industry shows off its fall womenswear collections at runway spectacles and showrooms for buyers — have been taking a hit from precautions to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Some brands have had to cancel shows because of quarantine measures. Those that chose to keep calm and stick to the schedule had to do so without the usual number of Chinese models, buyers and celebrity spokespeople whose social media posts and wholesale orders are key to promoting trends in China, the industry’s most important market.
Milan Fashion Week started to unravel on its final day, Sunday, as a surge of infections in the surrounding Lombardy region led to new quarantine measures.
Michael Kors canceled the launch event for a James Bond-themed collection at the behest of local authorities, while Giorgio Armani livestreamed videos of his show from an empty theater, having asked guests not to go the night before.
“The decision was taken to safeguard the well-being of all his invited guests by not having them attend crowded spaces,” a Giorgio Armani SpA spokesperson said.
Shoppers from China accounted for more than one-third of luxury purchases and two-thirds of the industry’s growth in the past several years, and concerns over the coronavirus’s spread are weighing on the sector.
Luxury companies’ global sales might be an average of 6 percent lower than previous forecasts this year, with companies heavily exposed to China suffering even more, Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Luca Solca said.
He described this year as a probable “gap year” for the sector, saying that further cuts might be needed if the viral spread accelerates.
In Paris, where fashion week began on Monday evening, industry powerhouses including LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE’s Dior and Kering SA’s Saint Laurent are forging ahead, albeit on tenterhooks.
“We’re listening to the recommendations of health authorities and will share them with brands in case of any epidemic in France,” said a spokeswoman for the federation that organizes Paris Fashion Week’s schedule.
Several Asian brands, including Taiwan’s Shiatzy Chen (夏姿), canceled their Paris shows weeks ago, foreseeing insurmountable difficulties in safely transporting staff and products.
“We think it is the most appropriate action after deep thoughts and considerations,” Shiatzy Chen CEO Harry Wang (王子瑋) said.
The majority of brands have managed to show their womenswear collections as planned — including Burberry Group PLC in London, and Prada SpA and Kering’s Gucci label in Milan.
However, they are likely to suffer from lower visibility because of the absence of Chinese participants, as well as difficulty selling the collections to retailers who cannot participate in person.
Chinese retailers still want to order products to stock their stores later this year, anticipating that the virus’ spread will diminish with the arrival of warmer weather.
However, without being able to touch the products, managers might be less sure about what to order.
“We can place our orders from a distance when it’s a brand we already sell, since we already know the cuts and the material,” said Yiling Hong (洪藝菱), the founder of a Shanghai fashion boutique and matcha cafe called Canal Street (堅尼街). “It’s too much of a risk to try new brands.”
Larger labels with dedicated Asia merchandising teams would probably fare better this season than smaller ones, which might struggle to reassure buyers, she said.
In New York, the estimated value of online posts about fashion week by Asian celebrities and influencers fell 75 percent from the previous year, fashion data consultancy Launchmetrics estimated, losing more than US$10 million of media exposure.
European fashion weeks are seeing a significant drop in coverage led by Asia as well, Launchmetrics chief marketing officer Alison Levy Bringe said.
Brands might recuperate some of the lost publicity by delaying, not canceling, their ad spending — as Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault has said that his brands plan to do.
Still, they would probably have to plan new events to generate excitement, rather than promoting images from a months-old fashion week.
“When people get back to shopping, brands are going to need to get really creative,” Bringe said.
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