Kate Han was determined to show her Mukzin-label creations during New York Fashion Week earlier this month. It was simply a matter of pride, despite the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic.
Even though there were rows of empty seats, the 30-something Chinese designer felt it was important to fly the flag.
“Before we left for New York, people were asking me every day: ‘Can you still make it?’ Many Chinese brands had already canceled their international shows by then, but I felt a mission not just to showcase our clothes but also to represent a brand from China,” Han said in an interview with Chinese media.
“Although things are quite limited as to what a designer can do, we want to raise awareness on a global stage and encourage our home country to fight on. We hope that more people will understand that Chinese people, including designers like us, are trying everything to conquer the difficulties,” she told Shanghai-based Jing Daily.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the catwalk calendar has been basically ripped up. Chinese perennials such as Angela Chen, Ricostru and Hui by Eran Hui have canceled shows in Milan next week. At least 1,000 Chinese buyers, journalists, stylists and other industry staff will miss the event.
Paris plans have also been shelved for later this month. Labels such as Masha Ma, Shiatzy Chen, Uma Wang, Jarel Zhang, Calvin Luo and Maison Mai have pulled out of the French runway carousel.
“The Federation will make available all its communications platforms to allow these brands to share the work they had planned to present both in France and overseas,” the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode said in a statement last week.
Digital strands have been put in place to live-stream collections from Chinese designers after the decision was taken to call off major shows in Beijing and Shanghai next month.
“We think it is the most appropriate action after deep consideration. We will now focus on a new format of communication to introduce our new collection,” Harry Wang, the chief executive at Shiatzy Chen, said in a statement.
What this means for the broader high-end fashion industry is a whooping financial hit.
Last week, Gucci-owner Kering temporarily shut half its stores in China, put new openings on ice and canceled high-profile advertising campaigns for labels such as Saint Laurent and Balenciaga.
“We are seeing a sharp drop in traffic and sales in mainland China,” Francois-Henri Pinault, the company chairman, said, adding that those outlets which remained open, including in Hong Kong, were on reduced hours.
These are turbulent times for the luxury fashion sector.
Earlier this month, a report by Fitch Solutions highlighted the challenges ahead for global brands.
Up to 42% of Burberry’s revenue is generated from the Asia Pacific region with “Chinese consumers the key driver of growth.” Kering’s revenue exposure came in at 32% with LVMH, which includes Louis Vuitton, Dior, Fendi and Givenchy, at 30% and Estee Lauder at 17%.
In 2018, Chinese consumers spent 770 billion yuan, or US$115 billion, on high-end items domestically and abroad, according to the 2019 McKinsey China Luxury Report. Moreover, that was the equivalent of 33% of global sales.
“The majority of them, about 70% in fact, will be doing their luxury spending overseas, a result of an increasing affinity for outbound travel and the price differential resulting from China’s import tax regime and brands’ own pricing policies. However, that ratio may shift in favor of domestic spending as a result of moves to cut luxury import taxes,” the study stated.
Still, the Covid-19 epidemic will have a huge “impact” on destinations in the United States and Europe, as well as regional markets such as Macau, Hong Kong and Singapore.
“We believe that the impact on the luxury retail segment will be further exacerbated by the fact that the coronavirus outbreak coincided with the Chinese New Year holidays, a period where Chinese consumers tend to travel and shop more,” Fitch Solutions pointed out.
For dedicated followers of fashion and the industry that serves them, 2020 is starting to lose its chic-to-chic appeal.