A year into pandemic, Milan fashion week stays virtual

Armani was forced to move its show at the February 2020 Milan Fashion Week behind closed doors as coronavirus took hold in nearby Codogno
Armani was forced to move its show at the February 2020 Milan Fashion Week behind closed doors as coronavirus took hold in nearby Codogno Andreas SOLARO AFP/File
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Milan (AFP)

Fashionistas will have to log on to soak up the glamour at Milan Fashion Week, which remains online a year after the coronavirus first swept into northern Italy.

No sharply dressed crowds will attend the extravaganza's opening on Wednesday: it's virtual catwalk shows only, with the likes of Armani and Prada presenting new women's collections for autumn and winter 2021-22.

The word "coronavirus" was just starting to pop up in conversations among members of the global style elite as they gathered for the February 2020 edition of Milan Fashion Week.

Italy's first outbreak was taking hold in Codogno, an hour's drive away. That prompted Armani to announce it would present its collection behind closed doors -- a first in fashion history.

Covid-19 would quickly spread across Italy, prompting the first national lockdown in Europe as the crisis swiftly took on global proportions.

A year later, the global luxury sector is in dire economic straits, with few reasons to dress up as comfort-wear has become the new uniform for the housebound.

Milan organisers nevertheless intend the latest Fashion Week, which runs until March 1, to show that the industry can adapt in the face of crisis.

And there is hope that the arrival of vaccines will lead to a fashion bounce-back.

- Millions of eyeballs -

Italy's National Chamber of Fashion has set up a dedicated online hub for the week's events, which include 68 shows and 65 collection presentations.

Wednesday kicks off with "We Are Made In Italy", an event by the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion collective, which has been pushing for greater diversity in the industry.

The next six days will see a parade of online catwalk shows, either live or pre-recorded, by brands including Prada, Moschino, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Valentino.

Kim Jones, the celebrated British menswear designer of former Dior and Louis Vuitton fame, will also present his first ready-to-wear collection for Fendi.

In the brave new world of virtual fashion weeks, the success of the latest Milan edition will be measured in terms of how many eyeballs it manages to reach.

The last Milan Fashion Week, in September, reached more than 43 million views on the event's exclusive streaming channel, with partners including the New York Times and China's Tencent Video relaying the footage worldwide.

According to analysis by media monitor DMR, the shows also reached more than 600 million users on social media.

- Vaccines: saviours of fashion? -

The Italian fashion sector's revenues plunged 45 percent in the second quarter of 2020 -- the height of the lockdown -- but losses for the year as a whole are estimated at 26 percent.

The National Chamber of Fashion released a Fashion Economic Trends study earlier this month, looking at various factors that could shape the industry's recovery in the medium to long term.

In the most optimistic scenario, a successful mass vaccination campaign and strong support for businesses as they emerge from the crisis could lead to growth of around 15 percent, the report predicted.

But if restrictions on commercial and social life continue until 2022 as authorities struggle to stamp out the virus, the bounce back could be limited to six percent growth, it said.

Italy's brand-new government, led by former European Bank Chief Mario Draghi, is currently weighing the best way out of a crisis that has claimed more than 95,000 lives in the country and savaged the economy.