Italy Grapples With Coronavirus

Fashion houses are encouraging smart working as trade shows, including Cosmoprof, are being postponed.

By Luisa Zargani
with contributions from Jennifer Weil
 on February 24, 2020
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy.

MILAN — Don’t panic.

Italian authorities are urging people to remain calm, but at the same time, exceptional measures have been set in motion as the country faces a sudden outbreak of coronavirus. The epidemic already rocked the fashion and retail worlds at the end of Milan Fashion Week on Sunday, and continued to do so Monday with further company closures and cancellations.

Italy’s Ministry of Health, as of Monday evening, reported 229 cases and seven deaths, making the country the worst-hit after China and South Korea.

Many fashion firms in Italy stipulated their employees work from home. Meanwhile, the organizers of Cosmoprof Bologna and Luxe Pack Shanghai postponed both shows given the coronavirus outbreak. Stores in shopping malls will be closed next weekend, with the exception of grocery stores and supermarkets. Coronavirus fears sparked food shortages as supermarkets were stormed and shelves left empty.

Show organizers at Paris Fashion Week reported some defections from editors traveling from Italy, although not from Condé Nast, for example, and a spokesperson for Valentino, which will show its fall season in Paris, said the company has received no cancellation for the time being.

The virus already had caused Chinese brands to cancel their presentations or shows during Paris Fashion Week, however, and on Monday heritage luxury trunk maker Au Départ canceled its Paris showroom, press appointments and a dinner in light of the spread of the coronavirus in Europe. The French label, which had been dormant since the Seventies and relaunched with new backers in September, was planning to present from Feb. 26 through March 8 during Paris Fashion Week.

Meanwhile, companies with operations in Italy were rushing to ensure the safety of their workforces.

“Kering and its brand are adopting all the necessary measures to protect the health of their employees, encouraging forms of alternative and flexible work, including smart working,” said the company. “The groups and the brands are constantly monitoring the evolution of the situation in order to quickly react and adopt further actions if needed.”

As a precaution, Moncler is closing for a week the headquarters in Milan and Trebaseleghe, near Padua, but the company said it “guarantees the continuity of business” through smart working.

Salvatore Ferragamo has been organizing private bus transportation for a number of its employees and sales people between Florence and Milan.

As reported, the Giorgio Armani and Luxottica group offices are closed for the week. And Max Mara employees in the U.S. returning from the Milan shows were told to work from home for the next 14 days to ensure they had not contracted the coronavirus.

On Monday evening, organizers of Cosmoprof said the show will be postponed from March 12 to 16 to June 11 to 15. Speculation is mounting that Salone del Mobile, the international furniture and design show scheduled to run April 21 to 26, may be postponed.

“In this way we can offer to the over 3,000 exhibitors of this edition and to the 265,000 operators attending our exhibition every year a high-quality business event, as in the tradition of Cosmoprof,” said Enrico Zannini, general manager of BolognaFiere Cosmoprof SA.

Luxe Pack Shanghai, the high-end packaging trade show, said it had changed the dates of its trade show, formerly scheduled to run April 8 and 9. Instead, it will now take place in the Shanghai Exhibition Center from July 7 to 8.

“This decision has been made on advice and information from government and local authorities in China and consultation with partners, venue and local team,” Luxe Pack said in a statement Monday morning. “The health and safety of exhibitors, visitors and staff is of the utmost importance and the first priority for organizers.

As reported, the Giorgio Armani runway show was held behind closed doors on Sunday at the tail end of Milan Fashion Week, filmed in an empty theater without press and buyers. It was distributed through the brand’s web site and social media and international eyewear trade show Mido, which was slated to run Feb. 29 to March 2 at Milan’s Rho-Fiera fairgrounds, was postponed — another blow to the city and the Lombardy region, one of the main business hubs in the country, which accounts for 22 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product.

Since Sunday and for the next week, all cultural, sports and religious and cultural gatherings — museums, cinemas and theaters including the famed La Scala – were halted. Bars are to be closed after 6 p.m. and until 6 a.m. The Duomo cathedral was also closed.

Parades for the Carnevale holiday at the end of the month, including the famous celebrations in Venice, have been canceled.

The Lombardy region, where Milan is based, has been impacted the most by the virus, recording 172 cases. Given the unexpected speed of contagion, which accelerated over the past weekend, rigorous measures were swiftly taken.  The two epicentres of the infection, the town of Codogno, about a one-hour drive from Milan, and Vo’ Euganeo, near Padua in the Veneto region, and their surrounding towns were locked down. Ten towns are reported being in quarantine. The concern also stems from the fact that the index case, or patient zero, has not been detected yet.

High speed trains traveling toward southern Italy on Monday could not travel farther than Piacenza, to avoid reaching the infected area. The country’s main train operator, Trenitalia, is inviting its customers to cancel their trips by offering to reimburse their tickets.

Angelo Borrelli, head of the Civil Protection department, said on Monday evening there are no other hotbeds and that “the numbers in Italy do not warrant a mutation in pandemia.” He also pointed out that those who had died were suffering from previous pathologies.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte underscored that Italy has taken more than 4,000 swab tests, “the first country in the EU to opt for such a rigorous approach.”

Despite the growing concerns, Attilio Fontana, president of the Lombardy region, was reported saying that he was “moderately confident that things could gradually improve” and that he thought there were “all the conditions to reassure citizens. The population is reacting positively to the measures taken.”

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