MILAN (AFP) - Milan Fashion Week kicked off on Tuesday (Feb 18) overshadowed by the coronavirus outbreak, with thousands of Chinese designers, buyers and journalists absent from the event.
China accounts for over a third of global luxury consumption and the crisis has already cost Italy's fashion sector millions of euros.
But the show must go on, and for six days, Italy's biggest fashion names such as Armani, Fendi, Prada, Versace and Gucci will showcase their Autumn-Winter 2020 Women's collections.
The event began on Tuesday evening with a "China, We Are With You" fashion show from Chinese designer Han Wen, who is based in New York.
Amid the 56 shows, 96 presentations and some 40 events planned through next Monday in the hub of Italian fashion, the three Chinese designers with fashion shows scheduled - Angel Chen, Ricostru and Hui - have pulled out.
Italy was the first European country to ban all flights to and from China last month.
Moreover, the closure of production workshops of Chinese brands in China made it impossible to meet the production deadlines for the shows.
The virus, which has already killed more than 2,000 people around the world, mostly in China, also cast a pall over London's Fashion Week.
That show, which began last Friday and ended on Tuesday, was also marked by "significantly reduced" attendance, organisers said.
The National Chamber for Italian Fashion said the economic impact of the epidemic was "currently not calculable."
Using the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003 as a guide, it said an "optimistic" estimate would be for Italian exports to decline by a minimum of €100 million (S$151 million) in the first quarter of 2020 and €230 million "in the event of a prolonged crisis" for the first half of the year.
The Chinese absence will be noticeable not just around the catwalks but behind the scenes, in showrooms where international buyers come to order pieces that will end up a few months later in luxury boutiques around the world.
To make up for the gap, the chamber has launched an assortment of digital means to connect buyers in China by giving them access to the catwalks in streaming but also behind the scenes.
Interviews with designers and live shows in the heart of the showrooms will also be made available.
Prada changed the time of its show on Thursday from 6.30pm to 4pm to better allow the Chinese market to follow the show.
China will also be in the spotlight with the Chinese-Italian Fashion Town initiative sponsored by the Chinese retail colossus Chic Group, giving eight emerging Chinese brands the opportunity to present their collections at the Hub dedicated to buyers.
The designers will be present virtually with video links.
The Covid-19 outbreak - as the World Health Organisation has formally named it - has also hit the sector's supply chain, with textile manufacturing plants shutting down in China, causing significant delays in the delivery of collections.