Models and make up artists wearing hygiene masks backstageDries van Noten show, Backstage, Fall Winter 2020, Paris Fashion Week, France - 26 Feb 2020

The LVMH Prize cocktail party is the latest cancellation at a Paris Fashion Week gripped with anxiety over coronavirus, where bottles of hand sanitizer, not perfume, were door gifts at the Paco Rabanne show held Thursday at the Conciergerie, the historic French Revolution-era site that’s certainly seen more head-spinning disasters.

The invisible menace hasn’t emptied the lunch crowd at L’Avenue, or cleared Caviar Kaspia (“We are fully booked every night with a huge waiting list,” reports chief executive officer Ramon Mac-Crohon.) And it didn’t keep Rachel Brosnahan, Demi Moore and Sigourney Weaver from the front row at Dior, Usher from Rick Owens or Carla Bruni and Tyga (what a pair) from coming to Off-White.

But it has created new rules of engagement, as the most social creatures on earth adjust to the “social distancing” being recommended by medical professionals to prevent the spread of the virus.

Air kissing is out, the arm squeeze is in, and every greeting (at fashion week, there are so, so many) is fraught with awkwardness as people gauge their coronavirus comfort level. “Wait, did you just come from Milan?” joked Anthony Vaccarello, kissing Vogue editor Mark Holgate on each cheek backstage after the Saint Laurent show. “No!” Holgate smiled.

A genteel cup of coffee at the early-morning Lanvin show was served with a side of hand sanitizer in a tasteful-looking pump. “Masks are available upon request,” public relations representative Ryan Petz said in the preshow rush. “I wasn’t going to put them out — they are available upon request.”

Medical evidence has shown that face masks are no match for the coronavirus, unless you already have it and are worried about infecting someone else who doesn’t. But nonetheless, they were being dispensed by guards wearing Latex gloves at Dries Van Noten, a show packed so tight it would have been a petri dish in the best of circumstances.

”I think people just want to feel like they are doing something,” said Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan, clarifying that since there is not much that can be done, masks are a way to feel like one is taking some form of action.

”Better safe than sorry,” said Spiro Liakotitis, co-owner of the Athens boutique Simple Caracters, waiting to get into the Off-White show at Bercy with his brother and mother, all of them wearing respirator-style face masks.

But there are precious few who have embraced the preventative accessory — on the runway or off. (“I would hate to capitalize on it,” said Rick Owens when asked if he’d design a coronavirus face mask. “But I’m sure people will and it will be sensational on Instagram.”)

“I’m touching and hugging, and today I put my chewing gum in my friend’s mouth,” a model said while snacking and waiting for a fitting at the Altuzarra showroom, where a trifecta of antibacterial spray, gel and wipes were all on offer on the mantle next to the Wi-Fi password. Her friends were nonplussed. “If you had this level of media attention around the flu, there would be the same hysteria around that,” said Joseph Altuzarra, whose show is scheduled for Saturday.

Despite the alarmist news reports, Virgil Abloh said he never really considered canceling his Off-White show. “If we had, it would send a message of panic. And I don’t want to be reactionary.”

Other brands are taking a wait-and-see approach, with ceo’s and p.r.’s monitoring the situation hour by hour as some buyers, editors and influencers cancel their trips to Paris, adding to the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean contingents that already did so.

“I considered it,” said Leandra Medine, who just arrived Wednesday morning. “But then my mother, who is a first-class worrier, told me it’s just like the flu and she’s right. And it’s not like Paris is empty.”

Hearst issued a memo to employees traveling to affected countries, including Italy, advising them to work from home for 14 days afterward rather than going into the office. But editors who had been in Milan said they didn’t read too much into it. (PMC, parent company of WWD, issued a similar memo.) “I’m going back into the office Tuesday, which is 14 days after Milan, which is only one day later than it would have been anyway,” said Joseph Errico, fashion director of Marie Claire, owned by Hearst Magazines. “If someone wants me to work on the beach for two weeks, I’d happily do that, but that’s not how I understood the e-mail!”

While it apparently wasn’t safe for people to toast the LVMH Prize finalists over cocktails Wednesday night, the Louis Vuitton runway show will still go on on March 3, said the brand’s ceo Michael Burke, extending a confident handshake at the Costume Institute’s “About Time” preview in front of the giant clock at the Musée D’Orsay, where hand sanitizer and masks were not on the table, but a platter of croissants was, sans serving tongs. “The Chinese are not coming, but everyone else is,” Burke said, noting that what the news has done is to make his sales and showroom staffs have to work that much harder in the digital space.

Some more intrepid buyers report that showroom traffic has been light, both in Milan and Paris. “It’s actually kind of nice to have the place to yourself,” said Nancy Pearlstein, owner of the Relish boutique in Washington, D.C.

“It’s affecting everyone’s business, of course,” said Bryan Boy. “For me, I’ve had four projects canceled. I was supposed to go to Seoul for a Gucci event and L.A. for a beauty thing, both canceled. I have masks in my bag, and I try to keep myself with the same people. But we’ve all come from Milan, so if we have something, we have something,” he continued. “What I’m more concerned about is when I go home to Sweden that I don’t give it to my husband.”

Mostly, the coronavirus has offered something to complain about. And everybody knows how much fashion people love to complain. It’s also grist for the front-row rumor mill. “I heard Miu Miu was canceled,” whispered one editor, adding that it would make sense for the Italian brand.

“I’m just upset I didn’t buy stock in 3M or Purell,” joked Altuzarra. “Maybe there’s still time.”

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