MILAN —  It’s the talk of the month, generating worry, dread and sometimes hysteria, often fomented by fake news.

As the coronavirus has spread beyond the borders of China, European industries and entrepreneurs have been weighing in on the possible consequences of this new crisis, not only health-wise but also in terms of the economic impact.

In particular, the Italian government declared a public health emergency after news last week that two Chinese tourists were diagnosed with the infection and hospitalized in Rome, and connections with China have been suspended, causing an immediate slowdown in terms of tourist flow.

Fashion-wise, the virus outbreak and consequent travel lockdown are expected to impact the upcoming international fashion marathon, as Chinese buyers, designers and other industry executives will have to skip the shows.

Camera Nazionale della Moda decided to react to the situation by launching the “China, we are with you” initiative, a project that aims to involve members of the Chinese fashion community during Milan Fashion Week, running Feb. 19 to 24. Live-streaming of the shows, dedicated social media platforms to comment on the collections and the creation of ad-hoc videos, backstage content and interviews will enable buyers and designers to partake remotely in the fashion experience.

“We prefer to build bridges instead of raising walls,” said Italy’s fashion chamber president Carlo Capasa in introducing the initiative during the presentation Tuesday of the Milan Fashion Week schedule held at the city’s central Palazzo Marino.

“We know that many buyers won’t be able to attend the shows and some Chinese designers had to give up to present their collections here, also because in some cases clothes were not ready as manufacturers had to suspend their businesses. This campaign intends to show our solidarity to them,” said Capasa, underscoring that the project was put together in less than a week and final agreements with tech partners are being discussed.

“We often criticize technology but today this is our best tool to break this barrier that has emerged suddenly and to contrast all the prejudice and fake news,” continued Capasa, disapproving some of the hysteric reactions recently raised toward the Chinese community in Italy.

“We’re facing the emergency, trying to promote positive messages and keeping a link with the Chinese market, which is key for Milan,” continued Capasa, revealing that the organization estimates it will spend 300,000 euros to implement the “China, we are with you” project.

As part of the initiative, eight Chinese emerging designers that should have presented their collections in Milan inside the Camera della Moda’s Fashion Hub space will be able to showcase their lineups digitally with video projections and explain their inspirations via live video calls. “These Chinese talents will therefore still be with us, because they have earned this opportunity and it’s only right that they partake in this fashion week,” said Capasa.

Although the Fashion Hub will be open throughout fashion week — with emerging designers from Italy, Hungary and Africa joining the Chinese ones — a special event will be staged on the eve of the shows to mark the official launch of the space. For the occasion, the Italian fashion chamber is also trying to stage a fashion show of a still-undisclosed Chinese designer who manufactures his line between Europe and the U.S.

“We’re the first [organization] launching this initiative but it’s open to whoever wants to join it,” added Capasa when asked if there have been talks with organizers of London and Paris Fashion Weeks, too. “We haven’t discussed this directly with them but I believe they are also following the developments very carefully to best evaluate what can be done.”

Capasa said that the Chinese travel lockdown will inevitably impact fashion week attendance, as over 1,000 Chinese executives will desert the shows, and “only a couple of hundred living in Europe or the U.S. will be able to come to Milan.”

In terms of economic impact, the coronavirus crisis is expected to cause a 1.8 percent decrease in revenues of the Italian fashion industry in the first quarter. According to preliminary data released by Camera della Moda, in 2019 the fashion industry — including textile, clothing, leather goods and footwear — totaled over 67.3 billion euros, up 0.5 percent compared to the previous year, while the overall sector — which also includes fashion, jewelry, eyewear and cosmetics — grew 0.8 percent to 90.2 billion euros.

“To be honest, we ended 2019 even better than we expected. We forecast flat revenues but there’s been a slight increase,” said Capasa.

Last year’s figures were positively impacted by an increase in exports, which grew 6 percent to 54.8 billion euros for the fashion industry and were up 6.2 percent to 71.6 billion euros for the overall sector. In the first 10 months of last year, exports to Asia accelerated, growing 5.6 percent in China, 10.6 percent in Japan and 14.9 percent in South Korea, while they decreased 7.8 percent in Hong Kong due to the political protests there.

Since the economic impact of the coronavirus epidemic can’t be evaluated precisely yet, the organization compared it to the 2003 SARS situation in order to have a scenario of the possible financial consequences. The optimistic forecast shows that there will be a reduction of Italian exports to China of at least 100 million euros in the first quarter of 2020, which could reach 230 million euros if the crisis continue in the second quarter.

“But we hope that in April the situation will be already different,” said Capasa, who underscored that at the moment sales of Italian luxury brands have not been impacted “as Chinese consumers are keen to make online purchases and those are still working, while most brick-and-mortar stores are closed.”

In general, Milan Fashion Week will be packed with appointments as it will host 56 shows and 98 presentations.

Capasa thanked big names of the industry for accommodating the rotation of their time slots once again, contributing to “keep Milan Fashion Week still lively and longer.” In particular, Gucci will stage its show on Wednesday, Feb. 19, while Giorgio Armani will present its fall 2020 collection on Sunday, Feb. 23. Fendi will also exceptionally have an evening slot on Feb. 20 while Versace will debut its coed format on Feb. 21.

Bottega Veneta, Antonio Marras, Missoni, GCDS, Boss and Philipp Plein will be among the other brands presenting their women’s and men’s collections together. Joining them, Agnona will debut its men’s wear line during its coed show to be held on Feb. 22.

Ports 1961 will return to Milan to present its women’s line under the artistic direction of Karl Templer, while Roberto Cavalli and Romeo Gigli have also reappeared in the official schedule with the respective presentations. Emilio Pucci will present the line developed by guest designer Christelle Kocher of the Koché brand, while N. 21 and Sportmax will celebrate their 10th and 50th anniversaries, respectively.

Among the cultural events, a new exhibition curated by Maria Luisa Frisa will open on Feb. 20 at Milan’s central Museo Poldi Pezzoli. Dubbed “Memos: A proposito della moda di questo millennio,” the exhibit will trace the features and qualities of fashion through the years and investigate its transformations. Featuring a visual project curated by Stefano Tonchi, the space will showcase key pieces designed by the likes of Giorgio Armani; Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel; Alessandro Michele for Gucci; Maison Martin Margiela; Prada; Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino; Versace, and Riccardo Tisci for Burberry, among many others.

“We hope to take this exhibition also to Dubai and China next, to bring the Italian fashion around the world,” concluded Capasa.

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