Don’t expect to see people filing into their offices full-time just yet.
Due to the rampant spread of the Omicron variant, several fashion companies are taking a wait-and-see attitude and delaying the return of their employees to the office, and the CFDA and IMG are closely monitoring the current surge and its impact on New York Fashion Week in February.
In total, some 1.1 million new coronavirus cases were reported Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, as the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the U.S. The Omicron variant was the cause of 95.4 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. last week, according to estimates posted Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we need to be flexible and adapt quickly to the changes it brings. We will continue to evaluate our plans as new information becomes available over the next few weeks and will share any updates required as we get closer to the week of Jan. 18 when we are scheduled to start our planned, gradual return to the office,” said a PVH Corp. spokesperson.
A Tapestry Inc. spokesperson said: “Out of an abundance of caution, prioritizing the health and safety of our people, we have just shifted our New York/New Jersey official return to office date to Feb. 1 from Jan. 10. While our offices have been and will continue to be open with enhanced safety precautions in place should employees elect to come in, our hybrid working model will go in effect on Feb. 1.”
The fashion industry is not alone in delaying return to the office. Banks such as Goldman Sachs, Citi and J.P. Morgan have delayed their return and are allowing employees to work remotely for the first few weeks of 2022, as have many major tech companies, including Apple and Google.
Shoshanna Gruss, founder and creative director of Shoshanna, said: “If there is one thing the past 22 months has taught us it’s that we have to be adaptable; what we’re doing today might need to be changed tomorrow.
“We are currently following the C.D.C. and New York City’s Small Business Guidelines for any in-person work. Our entire team is set up to work remote and they come to the office on an as needed basis. We are fortunate to have finished our last market just before the Omicron spread in early December. Being a small team allows us the flexibility to make some of the bigger decisions closer to the dates. We will revisit our plans for February market appointments and trade show travel at the end of the month.”
Lisa Shaller-Goldberg, president of Minnie Rose, said her team has all been vaccinated. “We have a hybrid work schedule only coming into the office two days a week, and we alternate days depending on the department,” said Shaller-Goldberg, who continues to have Zoom meetings. “Omicron is going to present new challenges being that the vaccinated are getting sick. So we have to take extra precautions when traveling and participating in upcoming trade shows. We are double masking and everyone will be tested regularly before returning to the office,” she said.
Jane Siskin, founder and chief executive officer of Cinq à Sept, said the company is also taking precautions: “We anticipate that 2022 is going to be a big year for Cinq à Sept. As COVID-19 cases spike in New York, we are taking precautions to create a safe work environment for our employees. We are expanding our offices in January to be two floors to ensure social distancing as our team continues to expand. The new office will feature two showrooms and a photo studio. We understand the importance of creating content for web and social and are making this a priority.”
Siskin said they are hoping to continue to host appointments with retailers in their showroom for the fall 2022 season. “In the past couple of months, major stores had returned to in-person market appointments and specialty stores were traveling to New York for the main collections, but not the pre-seasons/smaller deliveries. Our business at Dallas and L.A. markets was stronger than ever — it’s a great opportunity to meet speciality stores that don’t come to New York every season.
Siskin noted that the company has many in-person events planned for the first quarter with key retailers. “We will make a decision [this month] if these events should move forward as in-person or virtual. We love visiting the stores as it’s a time to connect with our customers and store associates and listen to their feedback.”
A spokesman for Ungaro and its designer Kobi Halperin (who also has a separate namesake brand) said: “We are back to the office, but with the option to work from home. Most of us are physically back in the office.” He said the market is still planned to open as scheduled on Feb. 8.
He noted that the Ungaro and Kobi Halperin design teams still plan to travel to Première Vision in Paris Feb. 8 to 10, and they are showing Ungaro during Paris Fashion Week in March. They will also show the Kobi Halperin brand for European clients during the same time.
“Of course, all is subject to change in case things change worldwide,” he said.
Susan Sokol, co-founder of High Alchemy, a New York-based showroom which represents 30 brands from luxury to advanced contemporary, said their employees have been back at the office since June 2020 when the city opened up “and never left.”
Since they have so many samples in the showroom, they felt it was important to be back in-person. At first, 99 percent of their appointments were virtual, but by September 2021, 50 percent were in person, which was very encouraging, said Sokol. However, this past December market, 90 percent was virtual, which Sokol attributed to the holiday time when retailers from smaller specialty stores are short-staffed and want to be on the selling floor.
She is now feeling that New York Fashion Week (Feb. 11 – Feb. 16) should be pushed back a week, which would impact all the global fashion weeks. With many believing that the next two weeks could be the peak of the virus in the U.S. (through Jan. 20), she believes things are going to get worse, based on what the C.D.C. and Biden administration health officials are saying, “and then things will taper off.”
While she believes New York Fashion Week could pose a problem, she feels that Coterie, which is very late this year (Feb. 27 to March 1) is better timed, and smaller specialty stores will feel safer coming to New York. She said her company’s employees, who would normally travel to Europe at the end of February, aren’t going this year. “Right now for us as a showroom we’re more comfortable traveling within the U.S. and doing trunk shows and visiting stores,” said Sokol, noting that their 2021 business returned to where they were in 2019.
Meantime, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, in partnership with IMG, is closely monitoring the current COVID-19 surge and is working with local and state officials to ensure the health and safety of all individuals participating in New York Fashion Week.
“We understand the impact of the Omicron variant on logistics, staffing and planning leading up to the week and will support each brand’s individual decision as it relates to their February shows,” said the CFDA, in a letter they are sending out Wednesday to its Fashion Calendar subscribers.
For those planning to hold in-person shows and presentations during February, the CFDA recommends following IMG’s COVID-19 health and safety plans, established last September. It will require all individuals entering a show venue to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations consistent with state and federal law, require mask wearing indoors at all times, except in designated eating and drinking areas or for models walking the runway, and recommends reduced guest capacity in show venues with appropriate spacing. In addition, IMG added that its updated vaccination policy will mandate a COVID-19 booster shot for all those eligible to receive it. Those not eligible as of Feb. 12, 2022 will be able to continue to enter with verification of their vaccination status.
Leslie Russo, president of IMG’s Fashion Events and Properties, added: “As we navigate fashion week for the fourth time since the pandemic began, we are adapting our plans in real time to ensure the health and safety of our community, while continuing to protect the industry’s ability to proceed with our collective business. IMG has set the precedent for a safe return to New York Fashion Week without incident and will continue to work closely with the CFDA and our city and state leadership to guide designers, guests, consumers and the innumerable workers that NYFW employs, through our most important biannual gathering safely.”
The CFDA said it will continue to support the American fashion community as brands decide what approach is best for their business. Runway 360 continues to be the central virtual home for New York Fashion Week as it has been throughout the pandemic. “As we continue to navigate the fluid nature of the pandemic, we will update the above should the situation change in the coming weeks,” said the CFDA.
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