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Paris braces for coronavirus impact on Fashion Week, trade shows

Translated by
Nicola Mira
Published
Feb 25, 2020
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The coronavirus epidemic that has been raging in China and other parts of the world for several weeks heralded a reduced attendance by Asian visitors to the Paris Fashion Week, scheduled from February 24 to March 3. But further pressure is mounting following recent developments in northern Italy and notably Milan - where the local fashion week has just ended amidst some confusion, after the outbreak of hundreds of coronavirus cases in the region.


Parisian trade shows and the Paris Fashion Week are preparing to deal with the coronavirus impact - Premiere Classe


On Monday, the various Paris Fashion Week stakeholders and participants, from the French Fashion Federation to labels, trade shows and showrooms, were waiting for fresh directives from the French authorities, which are working to prevent the epidemic's propagation into France. In terms of prevention, at the time of writing French policy-makers were not planning a curtailment to public meetings, affecting Paris Fashion Week events. On Monday evening, Health Minister Olivier Véran sought to reassure all concerned, saying that “no infected patient has been identified,” nor is there any evidence of “the virus spreading [in France] as of this evening.” He nevertheless emphasised that the relevant measures could be “reviewed and updated at any time.” The recommendations until then applicable to travellers coming from China, Singapore and, since Sunday, from South Korea, have now been extended to people travelling from the Italian regions of Veneto and Lombardy. They are to limit as much as possible any contact with the rest of the population, including staying away from public gatherings, working remotely and wearing protective masks.
 
In addition to the predicted shortfall in Asian visitors, the Paris Fashion Week is therefore likely to be impacted by a reduced presence of Italian buyers, including many who attended the Milan Fashion Week. Also, on Monday, a number of fashion industry companies introduced quarantine measures for their staff.

Paris Fashion Week event organisers have confirmed that Chinese visitors will be virtually absent, and so will the majority of Korean ones. Also on the cards, a significant reduction in the number of visitors from Hong Kong and especially Japan. To be on the safe side, many Japanese fashion companies have decided to cut down on the number of employees travelling to Paris.
 
According to the Japanese External Trade Organisation (JETRO), only a minority of Japanese buyers are instead expected to cancel their trip, notably those from department stores, while the majority of multibrand buyers confirmed their attendance a few days ahead of the Fashion Week.
 
Antoine Floch, organiser of the Woman trade show, is expecting a reduced Japanese presence: “it seems that indeed the number of [Japanese] staff in attendance will be smaller, but this isn’t a one-off occurrence. Cuts to Japanese buyers’ travel budgets are an issue we have already been experiencing for several seasons,” said Floch. But the issue will surely be exacerbated this season by the coronavirus factor.
 
The Japanese contingent is a primary audience at the Paris Fashion Week, often closely followed by Italian buyers. And the latter’s presence in Paris for the Fashion Week's eight days is now a big question mark. While Parisian organisers have been able to monitor bookings from Asia over the course of several weeks, the outbreak of a plethora of coronavirus cases in areas close to Milan this week-end is too recent to allow organisers to predict how the situation will unfold.
 
Some Italian industry professionals are already in Paris, but they have been advised not to attend events, in compliance to the health measures in place. Others may have decided to remain in Milan. The French Haute Couture and Fashion Federation has duly published the government’s public health guidelines. No restriction on public meetings has so far been imposed, since only 12 coronavirus cases have so far been diagnosed in France, and there is no local outbreak hotspot.
 

Events to be widely promoted, notably on social media



It is clear that both catwalk shows and trade shows are likely to be hit by a coronavirus effect in Paris this week. Organisers are planning to compensate for it by deploying a robust communication programme aimed at those buyers who won’t be able to attend the events. The French Fashion Federation is set to swamp social media platforms with content and show broadcasts, especially targeting Chinese platforms Weibo and Douyin.

WSN, organiser of the Première Classe show, which will open on February 28 like its Parisian counterparts, is hoping for a “limited” decline in the number of Japanese visitors - which account for 7.5% of its total - and is planning to broadcast a great deal of show-related content on WeChat, targeting its Chinese audience. China is the 10th country by number of visitors in the show’s ranking. And for Première Classe too there is a big question mark about the presence of Italian buyers, which account for 18% of the show’s regular visitors.
 
The Tranoï trade show, for which Italy ranks second among visitor countries, ahead of Japan, also expects a substantial impact. “We must urge exhibitors not to lose touch with those buyers who will not be able to attend this time,” said Boris Provost, the show's new director. “To do so, we can rely on the show's two new partners, online order-placement platform Joor and designer networking website Born. Their usefulness and complementarity with the show’s own digital tools is all the more evident,” he added.

E-tail sites and virtual showrooms a must 


 
Online promotional and sales tools seem indeed to be a must this season, and they may well turn out to be winners. From Japan, JETRO said that “buyers who will not travel to Paris will utilise Skype and the virtual showroom platforms used by the labels they are interested in to place their orders. Whatever happens, they are trying to find a solution.”
 
Faced with a decline in attendance from Asia, the Milan Fashion Week opted for the same strategy last week, before its shows and events were disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak in Lombardy on Friday and Saturday. Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian Fashion Chamber (CNMI), made this initial assessment of the attendance from Asia: “the Milan Fashion Week Women wasn’t too affected, since the crucial purchasing period is mostly beforehand, and many Chinese buyers were already [in Milan] for the Fashion Week Men, then went to Paris and back to Milan without returning to China. Besides, our platform for connecting with China during the Fashion Week had nine million subscribers.” In total, 16 million people are said to have viewed catwalk shows via Tencent and the ‘China We Are with You’ programme deployed by CNMI.

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