LONDON (Reuters) – Hand sanitizers and face masks were the new must-have accessories as London Fashion Week opened on Friday, in what was expected to be a subdued gathering hit by the absence of many Chinese attendees because of coronavirus.
Fashionistas queued for catwalk shows sporting face masks in different shades of pastel as buyers, designers, students and social media influencers came prepared at a time of global anxiety about the spread of the virus.
Kicking off the catwalk shows was Chinese designer Yuhan Wang, who overcame the difficulties wrought by the virus outbreak to present a first solo collection of Victorian-inspired waisted jackets in floral prints and lace-trimmed outfits accompanied by whimsical pearl jewellery.
Wang, who is known for her feminine designs, said delayed shipments of some items meant that some creations were not exactly as she had envisaged.
“Due to the virus all the hand-crafted things that were made in China weren’t able to arrive, and all the factories shut down, and the couriers not working, so I had to cut down the looks,” she told Reuters backstage after the show.
British Fashion Council Chief Executive Caroline Rush said the number of attendees this year would be down due to the coronavirus and said that the shut-down of transport links and factories in China was being felt.
“We’ve had one designer that isn’t able to show because their collection hasn’t arrived from China due to the logistics issues,” Rush told Reuters ahead of the show’s opening.
With a reputation for being a launch-pad for bold new designers, London Fashion Week is also showing collections from established brands such as Burberry and Vivienne Westwood, and this year will also host Tommy Hilfiger.
The fashion industry as a whole is facing a problematic few months if restrictions on traveling and working continue in China, the world’s largest producer of textiles.
The virus, which originated in China late last year, has claimed more than 1,380 lives and spread to other countries.
Rush said London Fashion Week was taking precautions against the spread of the virus by providing anti-bacterial sanitizers and undertaking regular deep-cleaning.
“Hygiene is a priority,” she said.
London Fashion Week will ensure that Chinese journalists, buyers and social media influencers unable to attend can still join in by promoting content and encouraging conversations on Chinese social media platforms Weibo and WeChat as well as other platforms, Rush said.
Luxury labels such as Gucci-owner Kering have already said coronavirus will mean smaller crowds at the month-long catwalk season. The London leg is due to be followed by shows in Milan and Paris later this month.
Lower Chinese attendance is potentially a major blow for fashion brands since Chinese spending accounted for a third of luxury global market sales in 2018, according to Bain & Company.
The coronavirus outbreak has forced the cancellation of many international business gatherings and sporting events. Shanghai Fashion Week has been postponed from its end of March date.
Writing by Sarah Young; Editing by Giles Elgood and Gareth Jones