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Tokyo Fashion Week Cancelled Amid Coronavirus Fears

The latest in a string of high-profile industry events to be cancelled or postponed, Japan’s largest fashion gathering has been called off as its government scrambles to contain the outbreak.
Kimono-clad pedestrians wearing masks on a street in front of Ginza's flagship Bottega Veneta store | Source: Shutterstock
By
  • Zoe Suen

TOKYO, Japan — Following the cancellation of a number of events at Paris Fashion Week, organisers have called off Rakuten Fashion Week due to the Coronavirus epidemic.

This season's shows — originally set to take place between March 16-21 — would have marked the second round of shows and presentations since local e-commerce giant Rakuten took the reins as the event's title sponsor.

The outbreak has spread to six continents, infected over 86,994 and killed 2,977 as of March 1, with the majority of cases and fatalities in mainland China.

As of Sunday, 241 infections and five deaths have been reported in Japan. On February 27, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that schools would be closing for a month following criticism that the government's management of the Diamond Princess cruise ship lockdown was timid and unforthcoming. The adoption of a more aggressive approach is a last-bid move to contain the virus and avoid cancelling July's Olympic Games, an investment worth nearly $30 billion.

Rakuten Fashion Week is just the latest in a line of global fashion events forced to postpone or cancel, including fashion weeks in Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul in addition to trade shows including Cosmoprof Worldwide Bologna and Watches & Wonders Geneva. Milan Fashion Week was cut short following a surge in infections around Northern Italy, but major shows in Paris have, for the most part, gone on as planned.

On February 29, Tokyo Girls Collection — Japan's biggest B2C fashion festival — was held without a live audience. Organisers W Tokyo refunded 12,000 tickets and live-streamed the runway show on social media app Line instead.

"I am sorry for the designers [who] looked forward to their shows," Japan Fashion Week Organisation (JFWO) Director Kaoru Imajo exclusively told BoF. He added that a number of labels like Tactac and Forsomeone were to present their collections to local and global industry insiders for the first time. JFWO will work with international media outlets to bring designers' visibility online, and lay out its plans during press events with designers and media outlets this week.

We have to think of ways to make people feel okay to buy or talk about fashion again.

The cancellation also means that moving forward, JFWO will have fewer funds without a season to show for it. “Since we [won’t do the event,] the sponsor fee reduction will be very damaging for us,” added Imajo.

Rakuten Fashion Week is largely a B2B event — 80 percent of attendees are industry insiders — and local designers will bear the brunt of the cancellation. However, Imajo said that the effect will be tempered, as showrooms will continue to support brands during the period, while some brands, like Hyke, will show off-schedule despite the news.

“It’s a good opportunity to consider new ways to do shows or showrooms digitally... so that [brands] can reach more audiences from all over the world,” wrote Maiko Shibata, creative director and buyer of Tokyo-based multi-brand boutique Restir, in an email.

This season, Shibata will place orders from Japanese brands via line sheets and pictures — she also said that showrooms will help brands’ collections reach buyers and eventually consumers.

But the cancellation will significantly impact labels’ global exposure: “For local designers, since their sales campaigns are [happening right now], it will be super hard to get orders. This will have a huge impact,” she said.

Restir’s buying team are set to cut short their time at Paris Fashion Week and head back to Japan instead to re-evaluate budgets and plan for upcoming seasons.

Shibata anticipates a drop in sales from foreign shoppers to add to an overall lack of appetite for fashion at home. “The current mood in Japan is not suitable at all [for spending] money on fashion,” she said. “We have to think of ways to make people feel okay to buy or talk about fashion again.”

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State of Fashion 2023
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State of Fashion 2023