Just shy of President Cyril Ramaphosa's address to the nation on Sunday night, African Fashion International (AFI) called off the last day of Fashion Week in Cape Town on 14 March.
This comes after we had optimistically - perhaps myopically so - predicted that it would be business as usual as at the time, no coronavirus cases had been reported locally.
However, with 61 cases (and counting) of coronavirus confirmed as of Sunday by the Department of Health, AFI's decision to call off Saturday's shows was no overreaction.
In a statement provided to media, AFI declared that they are "adhering to the guidelines proposed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the South African Department of Health."
"While the event organisers of AFI Fashion Week, and the host venue CTICC, have placed all necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of participants at the event, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe (Founder and Executive Chairperson of AFI) believes that it is our collective responsibility to contain the spread of the disease, and advises taking necessary precautions at this stage to limit possible spread," the statement read.
AFI proceeded with shows to ensure that designers are able to showcase their collections, but in the absence of guests who had bought tickets for the events. MAXHOSA, Kahindo, Scalo, Urban Zulu, Ituen Basi, and Amen shows were viewed online through AFI's social media platforms, and tickets were fully refunded.
Some highlights from the last day of Fashion Week with attendees:
With that said, it's worth noting how the spread of the coronavirus has impacted fashion weeks around the world. As an industry so dependent on China for production and clients, it's a no-brainer that the initial outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) that spread from Wuhan, China in November 2019 (and later Milan, Italy), would have an impact on fashion.
New York Fashion Week as well as the London FW events, managed to commence successfully uninterrupted despite the fear of coronavirus. This can be attributed to the fact that, at the time, New York State still had no confirmed cases of the virus, but the governor, Governor Cuomo, warned that "no one should be surprised when we have positive cases." The New York Times reported that the state has also set aside $40 million ( about R660 million) to fight the coronavirus.
With regards to London Fashion Week, South China Morning Post revealed that "involvement of Chinese retailers and media was sharply down at LFW due to travel restrictions imposed because of the COVID-19 virus outbreak," adding the largely known fact that "it was a heavy blow for the industry as China is the world’s biggest consumer of luxury fashion goods."
The article also added that "the British Fashion Council deep-cleaned the main London venue, with disinfectant on hand. However, only a few catwalk models wore face masks."
During the latter part of this Fall/Winter fashion season, the remaining fashion capitals' fear of catching this deadly virus intensified.
As confirmed cases of the coronavirus neared 1 000 in Seoul, South Korea, it was announced that Seoul Fashion Week - scheduled for 17 to 21 March - is cancelled. This is usually a fashion week with street style characterised by trendy masks, which serve the dual function of being style statements as well as protection from dust pollution in the city.
But had Seoul's fashion week resumed this season, these masks would have been an indication of a more grave phenomenon - a pandemic, to be precise - which according to Business of Fashion, reports "the largest number of confirmed cases after mainland China."
"Thirty-six labels were slated to showcase their new collections on the runway next month, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government."
Additionally, "coronavirus fears have already disrupted fashion week events in Milan, where Giorgio Armani cancelled his show and streamed it digitally. In Bologna, beauty trade show Cosmoprof Worldwide has been postponed until June. A lockdown was imposed on ten North Italian towns on February 23 and over 229 infections and 7 deaths have been reported in the country as of February 25," BoF reported.
Another article published in British Vogue notes that at the time when the mayor of Milan announced that offices and schools would close in response to two deaths from the virus in northern Italy, rumours began to circulate that Linate airport would be shuttered later that evening, heightening the anxieties of the fashion community present in Milan.
The article also anecdotally shares how U.S. fashion editors had opted to hire cars to drive from Milan to Paris rather than risking flights, where the writer also details the visible "signs of unease" at the airport.
This British Vogue article also detailed various reactions to the coronavirus at Paris and Milan Fashion Week as follows:
"At the Lanvin show, held on Wednesday morning, the brand had face masks and hand sanitiser available for guests, as well as backstage for the models and hair and make-up teams," they said.
"It was a similar story later that day, at Dries Van Noten, where suited and booted assistants offered face masks to guests upon arrival, and at Lemaire.
"Marine Serre went so far as to put them on her runway, and by Wednesday evening, people had started to post selfies of masks and glamorous rhinestone earring combinations, while the LVMH Prize had decided to cancel its cocktail event, on Thursday 27 February, and Net-A-Porter had cancelled its karaoke event on Friday 28 February. Meanwhile, Milan has postponed its design fair, Salone del Mobile – due to take place in April – until June."
In the BoF article mentioned earlier, it's also highlighted that "both Shanghai Fashion Week and Beijing’s China Fashion Week, originally scheduled for March 26 and 25 respectively, have been postponed," while Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo also scheduled for next month is yet to make an official announcement.
Perhaps Covid-19 is the unlikely, yet unfortunate 4IR nudge fashion needs to start reconsidering its ailing fashion week model. Armani and AFI have now both already proven that streaming works.