A large red sign was propped up at the entrance to the Bosideng show at London Fashion Week. As guests entered the space, they were handed a marker to sign their wishes. “Stay strong, China!,” “You can do it, China!,” and “Best wishes for China” were among the most common messages, written in English, German, and Mandarin. The root of the concern was the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, and has spread to other countries including England and France, where Fashion Weeks are being held this month.
Small Chinese flags were placed on each seat at the show, and some of the models even wore tiny Chinese flag tattoos on their cheeks. “After careful consideration, Bosideng finally decided to come here. We hope that through this show, the world will hear the voice of China,” said the label’s brand director, Li Chuang. “Let the world see positive energy from China, and let the world feel the conviction that China is united when facing difficulties. China will never be absent on the international fashion stage. As a Chinese enterprise with a sense of social responsibility, Bosideng has an unwavering responsibility at critical moments.”
While the coronavirus has caused plenty of fearmongering in the Western press, there were only two respiratory masks worn by guests at the Bosideng show. (And both were by Off-White, so they may have been there for style reasons rather than for health.)
Still, the virus, which has been listed by the World Health Organization as an emergency, is having a profound impact on the fall 2020 collections. The most prominent effect is that a vast majority of Chinese press, editors, stylists, photographers, models, retailers, and influencers have not been able to travel to New York, London, Milan, or Paris for the shows. “A very tight senior team that has not been in Hong Kong or China for the past 14 days are on the market covering all our brands,” says Andrew Keith, president of Lane Crawford and Joyce. “They are making the selection and then working with the buyers back in Hong Kong to detail the assortment and orders store by store. They’re staying connected through FaceTime and WeChat, with some vendors FaceTime-ing from the showroom with our buyers back in Hong Kong. The team on market are sharing style and product information through digital line sheets and photos with the team members back in Hong Kong, who are, of course, covering all the shows on Vogue Runway.”
What’s more, many of the exciting young talents who live and work in China have had to cancel their runway shows and look toward alternative means of displaying their ideas for fall 2020. “Like every season, we were planning to show our new collection at the official schedule of Milan Fashion Week, on the 21st of February. The timing, location, and venue were confirmed,” says designer Angel Chen, who is based in Shanghai and produces her collection throughout China. “Then quite rapidly the [coronavirus] situation got worse and we unfortunately had no choice but to cancel the show, which is obviously a real disappointment. At the moment we are assessing the feasibility of a digital way to show our collection, so we will hopefully present it to the world soon.”
Chen is a finalist on Netflix’s Next in Fashion competition, so she still has thousands of people tuning in to watch her designs on the series, but she is just one of dozens of designers based in China who are being impacted by quarantines. Caroline Hu, whose whimsical dresses are gaining international acclaim, had to cancel her show, as did Calvin Luo, a rising star who fulfilled his dream of showing in Paris last season but has to remain in Shanghai this time around. For him the biggest frustration is not being able to work on his fall 2020 collection. “We are not allowed to work at the moment. Companies need to get a permit from the government in order to resume their activity, and all employees have to self-quarantine for 14 days before going back to work. You can work at home alone for sure, but not at the office, and all gathering activities are banned at this stage,” he says. “Although we had to officially cancel our show in Paris, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode is very supportive and it has guaranteed us our spot on the official calendar in September. It even offered to promote our collection on its channels if we manage to finish it on time.”
In addition to the effects on people’s businesses and livelihoods, the experience of being stuck inside one’s own home for days on end can be challenging. Vogue China’s editor in chief, Angelica Cheung, wrote in an open letter how she, her husband, and daughter are trying to make the most of it, with her daughter learning new songs on her guitar and attending school via video conferences. “The press’s focus on the news in China is only on Covid-19,” the designer Calvin Luo says, using the most recent name for the virus. “There is not much of a mood for fashion at the moment, but it is nice to see that the fashion press internationally is being supportive and helping Chinese designers promote their collections globally.”
“Our sales in Hong Kong had been significantly impacted by the social unrest of the past eight months, while our China business was performing very well. However, the fast and wide-spreading coronavirus is now impacting our business across all markets,” says Lane Crawford’s and Joyce’s Keith. “In a country so associated with luxury consumption, the definition of luxury has changed. The basic necessities of daily life—food and personal care staples, and the ability to go out and socialize with friends and relatives—have become luxuries. And yet despite the fear, the disruption, the isolation, and the stress, people are getting on with their lives and doing the best they can.”
He continues, “Understandably in all markets, customer sentiment is low, but there are sparks of interest. In China, we’ve seen a triple-digit spike online while also seeing a greater shift in spending in home and lifestyle and beauty, which is significantly up versus this time last year. Our staff is in constant communication with customers—this is the strength and value of those relationships that go far beyond transaction.”
In the end, Chen issues a statement for the world: “I would like people globally to understand that it is a serious issue that is requiring a lot of effort from all of us here in China—it’s tough, but we are trying to be strong and patient and to fight. I would also like to pass on my gratitude for all the many international donations and to all the people supporting the country’s local communities who are persistent and working tirelessly. Measures to avoid further spread and damage are being taken seriously, and it’s obviously vital to feel supported globally in this battle, which is a worldwide matter.”
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