Menu Menu

Designer face masks and cancelled shows: fashion in the time of Coronavirus

Although Coronavirus did not succeed in shutting down the final week of 2020’s autumn shows, face masks and hand sanitiser were the most popular front-row accessories as concerns about the outbreak continue to rise.

After the last day of Milan Fashion Week was pretty much shut down entirely due to a major outbreak of Coronavirus cases in Northern Italy, many questioned whether the show would go on in the world’s style capital last week.

As hysteria spread across Paris, many rented vans or travelled by train to avoid airports and some – including Gwyneth Paltrow and Bella Hadid – echoed the industry’s concerns by posting selfies wearing masks. ‘Paranoid? Prudent? Panicked? Placid? Pandemic? Propaganda?’ Paltrow asked Instagram while on a plane to France. ‘Stay safe. Don’t shake hands. Wash frequently,’ she added.

With the number of confirmed cases in France reportedly up to 38 as of Thursday night, fears of COVID-19 escalated dramatically. President Emmanuel Macron described the situation as a ‘crisis, an epidemic that is coming,’ and many fashion professionals returned home early.

Despite all the panic however, the schedule did indeed get underway – with extra precautions taken at runway shows of course. At the entrance of the Dries Van Noten show, men in formal attire handed out face masks to anyone passing through and at Loewe, Pierre Hardy gave attendees miniature bottles of hand sanitiser in branded bags (a now highly coveted item).

Some even incorporated the current situation into their own lines, with Marine Serre debuting a series of designer face masks at her show on Wednesday. Describing her work as ‘futurewear,’ Serre’s anti-pollution masks are coincidentally timed, but it’s not actually the first time her sartorial vision has involved protective gear – she’s even gone as far as to completely cover her model’s faces in the past.

Meanwhile, any brands hosting collection ‘resees’ either postponed or cancelled their organised press appointments, such as LVMH which called off its famed annual Prize Cocktail Event for emerging designers. At the events, shows, and appointments which did in fact take place, people made sure to keep their distance from one another.

‘Due to the current Corona outbreak, we do not shake hands,’ said a door sign written by one of the PR agencies present. ‘We are happy to be receiving you here and we are excited to show you our new collections.’

Unfortunately as well, one thing that’s out of anyone’s control is the stock market, with Business Insider confirming that Coronavirus has the potential to cost luxury brands $43 billion in sales. Companies from Burberry to Kering to Jimmy Choo have all warned investors about financial losses and there’s also talk of some major labels being unable to present their collections next season as a result of disruptions in the production chain. With China being the biggest garment producer in the world, the closure of factories also means that retailers of high street fashion and sportswear are worried orders may not be fulfilled in time to meet shop-floor demand.

Fashion in the time of the global outbreak is definitely an unusual business, as the industry’s tendency simultaneously dramatise and trivialise serious issues has everyone confused.

In the words of Coco Chanel, ‘fashion reflects the world we live in’. The industry’s inconsistent response to the mounting threat of COVID-19 mirrors the muddled strategies of authorities and governments to manage a rapidly evolving and unpredictable issue.

It seems that for the fashion industry, and the world at large, the impact of Coronavirus is only just beginning.