The high street is deserted. Designers are in self-isolation. Even the Met Gala, the biggest event on the fashion calendar and one of the last remaining holdouts, has been postponed.
During Paris Fashion Week in late February, coronavirus began to send shockwaves through the industry, as many guests headed home early, for fear of catching the virus, while those who remained attended the catwalk shows armed with face masks and hand sanitiser.
A month on, the outbreak has escalated dramatically, and the world is braced for a long battle. With Covid-19 jolting global markets and consumers barely leaving their homes, let alone thinking about trends and new season collections, how will the fashion world cope?
When the crisis passes, and the industry sets about rebuilding afterwards - whenever "afterwards" turns out to be - our appetite for fashion and our shopping habits may have shifted permanently.
Here, we consider how the virus could change the industry, and how we dress, forever.
LUXURY BRANDS BRACED FOR IMPACT
The threat of coronavirus crept up on the fashion crowd at the autumn/winter shows last month. In New York and London, Chinese buyers, editors and influencers were notably absent from the front rows. In Milan, Giorgio Armani elected to hold his catwalk show behind closed doors, live streaming the event for those who had been due to attend. By the final day of fashion month, the style set had ditched their air kisses for upper-arm squeezes and were donning protective masks. Now, many brands have shut stores, closed factories and cancelled their upcoming cruise shows.
A number of brands have pivoted their supply chains to produce protective equipment: Christian Siriano, Brandon Maxwell and Prada are making face masks, gowns and medical overalls, and luxury group LVMH is using its perfume factories to manufacture disinfectant gels in response to hand-sanitiser shortages in French hospitals.
The crisis has made apparent luxury brands' dependence on Chinese consumers, who account for nearly a third of the global market. A recent report estimated that the cost to the industry in 2020 could be €40bn in sales.
With the spectre of a market crash looming and consumers braced for what comes on the other side of the crisis, even the super-rich may be reluctant to splash out. It could prompt a readjustment in our attitudes toward conspicuous consumption, as the 2008 recession did, when shoppers swapped the Juicy Couture tracksuits and Chanel bags for understated, logo-free minimalism.
The outbreak has also forced brands to re-evaluate their marketing strategies - business-as-usual social posts and newsletters have been criticised as "tone-deaf" - and their approach to travel, as the disruption has spurred the industry to consider adopting new technologies rather than jetting to and fro. Amid a worsening climate crisis, could live-streamed catwalk shows and virtual showrooms become the norm, post-coronavirus? On a broader scale, we might even start to see designers reassessing the standard cycle of six shows a year.
FAST FASHION SLOWS DOWN
The luxury sector relies on China for most of its revenue, but the high street relies heavily on it for production. According to one study, China accounts for 21.4pc of the UK's apparel imports, including stores such as Penneys, one of Ireland's biggest retailers.
"Many fashion retailers are still unclear on the status of their Chinese production orders and how severe the delays will be," says Chloe Collins, senior retail analyst at GlobalData. "Stock gaps are unavoidable and will start to become more visible after Easter, putting late spring/summer sales at risk, with categories such as footwear and underwear particularly reliant on Chinese production."
The full impact will become evident later in the year when the virus catches up with the manufacturing cycle, but for now, while shoppers are clearing the shelves of bread, milk and toilet roll, fashion is the furthest thing from their minds.
"As people self-isolate or avoid public gatherings, fewer impulse purchases for social events will be needed," Collins explains. "As people potentially cancel their summer holidays, spend on high summer items such as swimwear is also likely to decline."
With consumers growing accustomed to the idea of avoiding crowded areas, department stores could be particularly vulnerable - weaker chains in the US such as Macy's have already permanently closed locations and axed jobs. Here in Europe, Laura Ashley has collapsed into administration, Marks & Spencer has warned its businesses are likely to be "severely impacted", and on Monday H&M said it was weighing up thousands of layoffs worldwide. Arcadia, which owns Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge, has said all staff would receive their normal pay for March "after which we will review this situation and will be keeping our store teams updated".
Eddie Shanahan, retail consultant and chair of the Council of Irish Fashion Designers, tells me that the virus will hurt both major retailers and SMEs in the fashion industry.
"After a period of 10 to 14 days, when sales for March were down by about 40pc, 60pc in some cases, we are now in a situation where retail is shutting down extensively. As that happens, we'll have a lot of jobs going - we're talking another 200,000 jobs to go in the next week. That then impacts on the stores' ability to sell the merchandise they have in stock, and their ability to take in merchandise from small makers and designers in the coming weeks and indeed next season," says Shanahan.
"That will leave us in a situation [where] when this blows over, we'll have shops that are stocked to capacity, haven't had the opportunity to sell through St Patrick's Day, Easter and Mother's Day - three big purchasing periods - and in that scenario, I would imagine you're going to see serious damage inflicted.
"To be honest, they can just hope that the tough restrictions pass within two to four weeks. After that, I'm not sure it's going to be crazy on the high street any time soon."
AN ONLINE BOOM?
If the restrictions last longer than that, physical retailers may rethink how they bring products to consumers. Indeed, many brands are hoping e-commerce will help to compensate for some of the lost sales.
"Consumers will instead prioritise spend online, and as online 'pure plays' (companies that sell only through e-commerce) usually have a much wider selection of stock than bricks-and-mortar retailers, assortment gaps at these retailers will be less apparent, with consumers having more choice of alternatives," says Collins.
Brands with physical stores may look to innovations such as ShopShops, an interactive shopping service described as "QVC for the social media generation" which connects bricks-and-mortar retailers with online shoppers by providing a live stream where a host guides viewers through a store and processes purchases online.
Earlier this year, Asos announced a trial for See My Fit, an augmented reality tool that provides customers with a simulated view of products on different body types. Retailers are likely to seize on such try-before-you-buy technologies for customers unable to try on in store, and a period of quarantine could see innovations in this area blossom.
There are already indications that remote working has boosted online sales: according Hero, a retail customer service app that works with brands including Levi's and Diane von Furstenberg, purchases made from 9am to 6pm increased 52pc in the first two weeks of March, compared to the same period last year. There are particular categories that may benefit from more people working (and working out) from home: the Business of Fashion website reported that demand for activewear had increased in China following stringent restrictions on movement, which may occur here, too, if such advisories come into play.
Athleisure is already huge, but perhaps this will be a turning point for office dress codes, cementing leggings, sweatpants and hoodies as appropriate workplace attire once we start to leave our homes again. There's even a dedicated Instagram account (@wfhfits), run by a trio of fashion editors, cataloguing eclectic "working from home fits" in place of the usual #OOTD (outfit of the day) posts.
The crisis may also act as a wake-up call for retailers who have been slow to build an online platform.
"The opportunity, I suppose, for small designers and makers is to leverage their online presence as best they can, to promote their online sales effort and to build a profile for the future, because now is the time to plan," says Shanahan. "Nobody can afford to say, 'I will discount and sell everything when we get back to normal', because when you deep discount, you damage your margin, so you end up giving away the product you made with no profit. So the big challenge is: what is going to happen when the shops open again?"
LOOKING AHEAD AND BEHIND
For restless workers sitting in front of a laptop all day, checking out the new arrivals on the Zara website during a "quick break" may develop into a regular habit. Will several months of staying indoors and browsing the virtual rails swing the tide against physical stores for good? Could we all get so used to online shopping that we don't bother to return to the bricks-and-mortar stores when they eventually reopen? Shanahan doesn't think so.
"Retail for certain products isn't about one or the other, it's about a convergence of bricks-and-mortar and online," Shanahan explains. "There are certain products that people want to try on in store, then buy online, or search online, buy in store. The in-store experience is still bricks-and-mortar's most powerful tool."
As the outbreak has eased in China, stores have begun to reopen, and customers are slowly returning to malls, high street shops and luxury boutiques - Women's Wear Daily even reported a queue outside a Chanel store in Shanghai last week.
Shanahan does warn, however, that a lack of disposable income will sharply cut down on spending, both online and in stores. We may emerge from the coronavirus shutdown to find a global recession setting in. It may be instructive to look to other examples of consumer behaviour in the face of trauma, such as in the aftermath of 9/11 in America. Retail futurist Doug Stephens has used the term "secular immortality" to describe the effect of the terrorist attacks on consumer activity: at first, people recoiled from consumerism, but this was followed by a determination to collect goods and valuable possessions - materialism as an affirmation of life. Shopping was even recast as an act of patriotism, with then US President George W Bush encouraging people to spend and "enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed". He was criticised for encouraging financial irresponsibility, though it did ultimately deliver a boost to the retail sector, including the fashion industry.
Maybe self-isolation will end and we'll be so sick of our athleisure wardrobes that we'll be desperate to go shopping and dress up again. Maybe we'll find maximalism tasteless and favour a quieter, more streamlined look. Maybe the crisis will give rise to a whole new style, like Dior's New Look in the postwar era of 1947. Or maybe we'll be left lingering in our leggings and sweatshirts, waiting to see the true extent of the economic fallout. For now, Shanahan advises retailers and shoppers alike: "The only option at this stage might be hope. We have to keep going, we have to make our plans, we have to talk to each other and support each other in any way we can."
It's a tricky time for fashion media, both in traditional outlets and on social media. With people stuck indoors, audiences are spending more time on social networks, online publications and print titles, but the need to create sensitive messaging has been a problem - backlash can be swift with an always-on readership quick to call out examples they find offensive.
For publications already in a precarious position, the disruption to content production and the supply chain could be the final nail in the coffin (although not a fashion magazine, Playboy announced it was closing its print edition due to the increased strain on operations).
At the centre of the pandemic, Italian publications are tackling the crisis directly: Vanity Fair released a special edition dedicated to Milan, featuring 64 personalities from the worlds of fashion, business and entertainment, and has prepared another devoted to the female medical professionals working around the clock. The issues have been distributed for free online and at news stands in Lombardy, while Vogue Italia has provided complementary access to its digital archive for three months.
In the world of social media, top fashion influencer Chiara Ferragni has swapped sponsored posts for health advocacy, raising €3m for Italian hospitals by encouraging donations from her 18.9 million followers.
It has fast become a golden era for live streaming - Instagram users will have clocked the storm of content creators and celebrities taking advantage of Instagram Live. In China, reports indicate that monetisation is down for Chinese influencers (who work primarily through brand partnerships), yet it's not all bad news: the quarantine proved to be a boom time for content, a scenario we're likely to see playing out here, too. Marketing agency Obviously reported saw a 76pc increase in daily likes on Instagram posts with #ad during the first two weeks of March.
It suggests that however dire the crisis gets, there is still an audience for moments of escapism - and for shopping.
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