COVID-19 disrupted Fashion Month before it arrived stateside.

By Mekita Rivas
Mar 12, 2020 @ 4:15 pm
Victor VIRGILE/Getty Images

The coronavirus has gone from distant, looming threat to full-fledged, it’s-really-happening pandemic — all within a matter of weeks. Market volatility continues. People are working from home en masse in order to socially isolate. Major cultural events, including festivals like SXSW and Coachella have been canceled. The NBA suspended the season after a player tested positive for COVID-19. On Wednesday night, Donald Trump announced that travel between much of Europe and the United States will be halted for the next 30 days (a policy that has since been walked back).

With so much changing in real time, Fashion Month may seem like a distant memory, when in fact it ended less than two weeks ago. And this biannual global event was actually among the first to confront the realities of the coronavirus. Fashion editors and tastemakers from across the world flocked to fashion capitals — Milan Fashion Week ended Feb. 24; Paris on Mar. 3 — largely unaware that this year’s runway shows would be set against the backdrop of an escalating public health crisis.

Ahead, four fashion insiders open up about what it was like dealing with the immediate effects of the outbreak on the ground, and what life has looked like in the past few weeks. (We can all agree that the situation has only escalated in severity.) They discuss weighing the pros and cons of a self-quarantine, and share insight on making the most of a less-than-ideal situation.

Laura Brown, InStyle editor-in-chief

InStyle’s editor-in-chief traveled from London to Milan on Feb. 19. She then left for Paris on Feb. 23. Her time there was cut short due to the outbreak; she decided to return to the U.S. on Mar. 1 instead of Mar. 4 as originally planned. She’s currently in Australia on business, but was self-quarantined in New York between trips.

“[People in] Milan were super twitchy by the end of [Fashion Week]. People were just booking it out of there like I’ve never seen. In Paris, it felt like sort of a creep, like, ‘Oh, God, it’s here?’ I [was] more concerned about travel restrictions than about catching coronavirus. Every day there was new information, new restrictions, new everything else.”

With another big international trip on her agenda, Brown thought it was best to come back to the States and begin her self-quarantine.

“Some people’s bosses were saying, ‘Come back.’ Some people’s bosses were saying, ‘You have to quarantine for 14 days after getting back.’ It was getting a bit confusing for people, especially for people with kids. People just started to go, ‘What am I doing here?’”

Although she left Paris three days earlier than anticipated, her work remained relatively uninterrupted. She was able to livestream the shows she missed, and made a surprising discovery during her period of self-quarantine in New York.

“I’m enjoying human contact through various mediums. I have rediscovered a love of Skype. I haven’t Skyped anybody in like two-and-a-half years!”

The other benefit to not showing up to an office every day? A more casual dress code. For Brown, that meant a daily rotation of comfortable T-shirts. But self-quarantine also came with a downside.

“You start staring and wondering whether the ceramics look good in your living room.”

Chrissy Rutherford, editor

The former Harper’s BAZAAR editor flew to London from New York on Feb. 8. She traveled to Paris via train on Feb. 27, and returned to London on Mar. 3. She remains in London.

“There weren't really many reported cases in Europe [at the time], so I wasn’t entirely concerned when I was first leaving New York. I was definitely feeling more concerned about going to Paris since so many people had just been in Milan. However, I’m naturally a germaphobe so I feel confident in my ability to avoid germs the best I can.”

In Paris, Rutherford noticed the coronavirus had indeed shifted the collective discourse.

“Everyone was definitely talking about it, especially upon greeting others since some people were refraining from hugging, kissing, shaking hands. For the most part, people didn’t seem too alarmed that they were actually restricting their own schedules or contact with others.”

While she didn’t skip any shows or appointments — or self-quarantine in Paris — she would consider doing so upon returning to the States.

“I’m not working at the moment, so I wouldn’t be super affected by a self-quarantine, but also because I work mainly online it wouldn’t affect me too much. But I am worried about being forced to stay inside for extended periods of time either in London or New York.”

The number one lesson she’s learned while traveling during this outbreak?

“That people don’t practice good hygiene. I’ve always lived my life obsessively washing my hands or using antibacterial [gel].”

Tyler McCall, Fashionista editor-in-chief

Fashionista’s editor-in-chief arrived in Milan from New York on Feb. 17. She left Paris and returned to the States on Mar. 4. She self-quarantined in New York.

“In Milan, things felt slightly more panicked; it was the perfect storm for rumors to fly — ‘Did you hear this show was getting canceled? Did you know editors are driving to Paris?’ The virus certainly remained a topic of conversation in Paris, but it seemed calmer, at least to me. Everyone had time to adjust, and Paris wasn’t having an outbreak on the level of Milan anyway.”

Although she did not skip shows or appointments, she had one accessory of choice.

“I was there to do my job, and it didn’t seem prudent to skip shows that I needed to cover. But again, I did really burn through hand sanitizer! And everyone was being extra-cautious about physical contact.”

Her decision to self-quarantine mostly stemmed from wanting to keep her colleagues and fellow New Yorkers safe.

“I did choose to self-quarantine marking two weeks from when I left Milan. I stayed home more out of an abundance of caution for my coworkers and for the people I encounter every day on the subway. I get a little stir crazy working from home too much so I can’t say I would love it [in the long term], but I’m grateful to be in a position that it wouldn’t be so disruptive.”

Terms like “pandemic,” “outbreak,” and “rapidly spreading virus” don’t exactly have the most positive connotations. But McCall says her firsthand experience of being in a coronavirus hotspot emphasized the importance of maintaining composure, even in uncertain times.

“It really helped to be around people who had steady heads about the whole thing. The worst part about being in Milan during the early days of the outbreak was the sense of panic, which made everything feel so frantic. Everyone I met while in Paris stayed calm, kept up to date with information about the virus, and followed careful instructions for public safety. That’s all we can do!”

RELATED: Coachella Has Reportedly Been Canceled Due to Coronavirus Concerns

Olivia Lopez, writer and influencer

The author and influencer flew to Paris from New York on Feb. 23. She then traveled to Florence. As the Italian government enacted a country-wide lockdown, she returned to Paris on Mar. 10, where she remains currently.

“I already had plans to be in Europe through the month of March for campaigns, meetings, and projects, so [I] will stay in Europe through the incubation period to watch how it escalates. My ‘ideal’ self-quarantine would be to stay in Paris where my partner lives, versus returning to New York, especially given that my family lives across the country in Los Angeles. Given the health care system in the U.S., I would prefer to stay in the EU and pay out of pocket for European health care.”

From Lopez’s perspective, the outbreak took over much of the conversation on the ground in Paris.

“The entirety of Fashion Week was fixated on the coronavirus, specifically potential carriers from people who had gone to Milan and the noticeable absence of the Asian market at shows and appointments.”

Although travel right now is predictably unpredictable, Lopez says these experiences have taught her several key lessons.

“The first is confronting how globalized and interconnected our world is. I had been monitoring the news of COVID-19 since it first broke out in Asia, and think this could have been better handled if this was taken more seriously at the get-go. Educating the public and giving people the right tools to prepare themselves is essential in a crisis like this, as well as the right context to go about their every day without the pressure of uncertainty and anxiety.”

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