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Coronavirus Casts a Shadow on Luxury’s Cruise Show Plans

As the likes of Gucci and Versace cancel events, the outbreak is surfacing urgent questions about fashion’s ways of working.
Models at the Christian Dior Couture Spring/Summer 2020 Cruise Collection in Marrakech, Morocco | Source: Getty
By
  • Zoe Suen

LONDON, United Kingdom — One of the strangest fashion months on record has drawn to a close, but mounting cases of Covid-19 in cities from New Delhi to Madrid have already taken their toll on luxury brands' plans to stage Cruise 2021 shows.

Last month, Prada postponed its Tokyo cruise event, Chanel put plans to restage its Métiers d'Art collection in Beijing on hold and Giorgio Armani announced the unprecedented cancellation of its Autumn/Winter 2020 runway show in Milan.

This week, Gucci, Ralph Lauren and Versace called off shows, all slated to take place in the US in April. Armani has also postponed its cruise show and hotel opening in Dubai — the back-to-back events, scheduled for April 19 and 20, have been pushed to November.

A Chanel spokesperson told BoF that its May 7 show will still take place in Capri, despite the 3,089 cases and 107 deaths reported in Italy as of March 5. Meanwhile, Dior’s event (billed for Puglia on May 9) and Louis Vuitton’s show (location undisclosed) hang in the balance. Dior and Louis Vuitton did not respond to BoF’s request for comment.

Though Max Mara has postponed a dinner in New York — originally scheduled for the 31 March — by a month, the Italian brand is still moving forward with its show in Saint Petersburg on May 25.

“Our travelling shows are smaller, [around] 180-200 people,” said Max Mara Group’s President of Worldwide Public Relations and Communications Giorgio Guidotti, adding that other brands’ guest lists are often double the size. “I think that it’s important to support the industry, to believe that things will be better and go on.”

It's important to support the industry, to believe that things will be better and go on.

The coronavirus epidemic has resulted in at least 96,786 infections and 3,303 deaths as of March 5. Though the number of new infections in China have dropped to their lowest level in weeks, cases have risen rapidly across the US, the UK, Iran and South Korea. Major industry events from upcoming fashion weeks in Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul to trade shows like Cosmoprof Worldwide Bologna and Watches & Wonders Geneva have also been hit.

"It's a double loss," said Mario Ortelli, managing partner of luxury advisors Ortelli & Co. "You've got the cost committed to these events, most of which is unrecoverable. Then, you've got the opportunity cost: these events produce a lot of marketing content."

In recent years, luxury mega-brands have invested millions of dollars in far-flung cruise extravaganzas to create elaborate, social media-friendly moments and retain consumers in lucrative regional markets like China and Japan. Take Chanel's 2017 replica cruise show in Chengdu, which was tagged in 560 million Weibo posts, or the brand's touring exhibition Mademoiselle Privé, which generated almost 4 billion digital touch-points in Shanghai last year.

But just as Covid-19 has forced insiders to reckon with the lack of agility in fashion's supply chains and consumer demographics, its effect on cruise shows reinforces urgent questions about fashion week and the way the industry works. It remains unclear whether the cancelled events will be rescheduled once the crisis abides (or if postponed events will eventually be cancelled), but brands that miss out on the opportunity to engage with top-tier clientele — who are often flown in for these events — will need to get creative.

“These unfortunate crises are also laboratories [for brands] to experiment with new solutions and ways of approaching consumers that are more efficient,” added Ortelli, noting the influx of global brands on Chinese tech platforms like Tencent’s WeChat over the past month.

“Maybe in the long run, the industry will find a way of promoting things that are different and even more cost-effective and successful.”

Updated 15:25 GMT on March 10 2020: On March 10, Max Mara announced the cancellation of its May 25 Cruise 2021 runway show "in light of recent global health concerns."

Updated 15:22 GMT on March 11 2020: On March 11, Hermès cancelled its Cruise 2021 runway show, originally scheduled to take place on April 28 in London.

Updated 14:11 GMT on March 16 2020: On March 16, Dior confirmed the indefinite postponement of its Cruise 2021 show. Chanel postponed its haute couture presentation, which was set to take place in London on March 26.

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