The fashion crowd put a defiant face against the spread of a new virus, packing runway shows on the last big day of Milan Fashion Week on Sunday, even as Giorgio Armani made a last-minute decision to stream his latest collection from an empty theater out of concerns for guests' health.
Conde Naste artistic director Anna Wintour took her usual spot in the front-row of Dolce&Gabbana across from a gaggle of global social media Tik-Tok influencers, none of whom were deterred by the spreading virus that had put about a dozen northern Italian towns on lockdown.
The Italian National Fashion Chamber said in a statement early Sunday there were no indications from health officials that changes in the schedule were called for, adding that it was up to brands to decide if they would go ahead. Only Armani made changes, among nine shows scheduled.
Later in the day, Lombard officials closed theaters, cinemas and other places, like discos and pubs where people might crowd, for at least seven days, as confirmed cases in Italy jumped to at least 152. And Venice officials took the step of canceling Carnival celebrations, unprecedented in modern times, in a bid to stop the virus spread.
Even as the shows went on, the coronavirus threat cast a strange mood over the Italian fashion capital. Despite pockets of activity around the venues at showtime, the city was more empty than normal for an unusually warm winter Sunday, when people from the surrounding province often come for a stroll or to soak in the fashion week energy.
Inside shows, just a handful of people wore protective masks.
Asked about the impact of coronavirus on the fashion schedule, Wintour pivoted to the unexpected announcement of a collaboration between creative forces Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada at Prada going forward, calling it ''the most inspiring news of the season.''
"To me that just shows how we can all be much stronger together at a time when things are so politically divisive. The idea of two creative geniuses coming together supersedes other concerns,'' Wintour told The Associated Press after Dolce&Gabbana.
The economic impact of the virus on the wider industry remains a concern. At least 1,000 Chinese journalists, buyers and industry insiders couldn't travel from China, which contributes one-third of global luxury revenues in domestic sales and shopping abroad.
The Giorgio Armani fashion house announced overnight his runway show on Sunday would be conducted in an empty showroom and streamed for the fashion public on the internet as a ''preventative measure decided by Mr. Armani to support national efforts in safeguarding public health.''
It was the first time the 45-year-old Milan fashion house has taken such a step out of public health concerns, though Armani did stage a show in an empty venue in Paris in 1998 after officials said the big tent posed a safety hazard. At that time, he distributed video of the event to fashion editors, then restaged it in New York to protest what he said had been a decision dictated by fashion world politics and not safety concerns.
In streaming, Armani models moved across a dark background, giving contrast to pink, teal and pearl gray silky printed trousers and skirts, while black velvet jackets that blended in with the darkness.
The show ended with what notes said was a ''message of love for China,'' where the coronavirus first broke out. Models in glistening, sculpted gowns from archival couture Armani Prive' collections inspired by China stopped along the runway, while the 85-year-old took a bow to the virtual audience. Empty seats were visible behind him.
At Dolce&Gabbana, designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana showed a predominantly black and white collection in a world that is anything but. The looks included many iterations of the brand's famous black dresses, but this season was distinguished by cozy, enveloping knits in oversized stitching. To underline the artisanal quality, the brand's knitters and other craftspeople demonstrated their skills in the foyer.
Tik-Tocker Anna O'Brien, whose videos empowering curvy women are posted as @glittersandlazers, was thrilled to be in the front row of her first-ever international runway show, virus or no.
''Working in this industry, you learn about the hot story, right? And that's the hot story right now. Is it a threat? Definitely. But is it the only thing that's threatening the world right now? Not really,'' said O'Brien, who traveled from Austin, Texas, to Milan.
Earlier Sunday, emerging talent Mariana Rosati was preparing models for its morning show of her Tuscan brand DROMe, which has found fans with Bella Hadid and Ariana Grande. Rosati said she didn't believe there was reason to fear, as models sat nearby waiting for hair and make-up.
"I am very sorry what is going on. I know it is not predictable and obviously we need to be careful. But I actually think a lot of panic has been spread for not enough reasons," Rosati said.
Though she expected fewer people would show, it was standing room only for the collection meant to inspire sensuality in women with its oversized jackets complemented by body-defining mini-dresses with deep slits that show off knitted underwear with a vintage feel.
"Good vibes," Rosati said. "This morning the news was that people would not show up. They did and that is great."
In a last-minute change, Giorgio Armani is holding his Milan Fashion Week runway show behind closed doors Sunday due to concerns raised by the coronavirus, and instead stream the event from inside the empty showroom.
The fashion house said in a statement early Sunday that ''the decision was taken to safeguard the well-being of all his invited guests by not having them attend crowded spaces.''
A dozen towns in northern Italy have gone on effective lockdown after the deaths of two people infected with the new virus from China. Milan is the capital of Italy's Lombardy region, which reported 54 confirmed cases.
Milan's mayor on Saturday shuttered public offices. But runway shows continued apace for their fourth day, with most of the fashion crowd taking an analytical attitude to the rapidly spiking infections.
"For the moment the situation is under control,'' said the president of the Italian National Fashion Chamber, Carlo Capasa. He added it was up to government officials or fashion houses themselves to decide if additional measures were needed.
Sunday is the fifth day of womenswear previews for next fall and winter, with eight other shows scheduled, including Dolce&Gabbana. It was not clear if the other shows would go on as scheduled. Several shows were also scheduled Monday morning, before the fashion world moves on to Paris, where shows start Monday afternoon.
Armani was forced to show behind closed doors one other time, in Paris in 1998, when officials said there were insufficient safety exits inside a huge tent being used as the venue to allow the public to attend. Only his team and one video camera was present, and a video of the show was later distributed to fashion editors. Armani later showed the entire collection in New York in protest, claiming that fashion world politics and not just safety concerns had led to the officials' call.
On Saturday, MIDO, the world's largest eyewear industry fair, announced that it would postpone the gathering scheduled for Feb. 29-March 2 until June due to concerns over the virus.
"The evolution of this health crisis under way in our country does not leave any doubt over our decision,'' MIDO president Giovanni Vitaloni said in a statement.
Highlights from previews for Fall-Winter 2020-21 womenswear looks:
FASHION'S VIRAL ECONOMIC CONCERNS
With the evolution of the virus still uncertain, fashion houses remain worried about the longer-term economic impact. Chinese consumers at home and abroad are responsible for one-third of global luxury sales. The Italian fashion chamber has already forecast a 2% contraction in first-half revenues.
''I think we have to live day by day because it is beyond our control,'' Ferruccio Ferragamo, son of the late Salvatore Ferragamo, said at the brand's Saturday's runway preview. ''We try to do our best with heart and head, everything in order to get over this.''
He said the brand is maintaining close contact with its people in China.
''I think that if we are very 'foot on the ground,' we will benefit later,'' Ferragamo said.
Giorgio Armani also expressed longer-term uncertainty. ''We don't know when we will be able to breath a sigh of relief,'' the designer said.
Armani said the challenge for businesses won't end when the virus stops spreading. At that point, a fashion companies will need to renovate stores and ''again create enthusiasm among the people,'' he said after the Emporio Armani preview Friday.
FERRAGAMO'S ''METAMODERN'' WOMAN
The queen, the mother, the lover, the sage, the maiden, the huntress and the mystic. They are the seven Jungian archetypes that inspired creative director Paul Andrew's newest collection for Salvatore Ferragamo.
''I was thinking that here, today, in this modern age, a woman in any given hour is all of those things together,'' Andrew said backstage.
Andrew's mood board was full of ''iconic'' women who fulfill those roles. They included Nancy Pelosi, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Sharon Stone, in her ''Fatal Attraction,'' iteration, and Wanda Ferragamo, Salvatore's widow, who helped turn his luxury shoe business into the global luxury brand it is today.
The collection brimmed with Italian craftsmanship -- from wavy woven bags made from upcycled left-over leather from the Ferragamo warehouses, to hand-made macramé inserts in an archival botanical print that enhanced the back of a print blouse with eye-catching detail.
Trousers were high-waisted, sometimes corseted and other times layered with a built-in side-cinched long skirt on top. Knitwear, worn perhaps as mini-dresses, came embroidered with exotic florals. Leather coats had a light feel and incorporated scarves. The design feature was repeated on sheer dresses and blazers, creating a dramatic effect. And there were strong all-leather pant looks for anyone wanting to star in their own James Bond thriller.
The opening and closing looks featured fringe-adorned dresses -- one a shimmering silver fringe skirt over a black sheath, and the other long strands of ribbon trailing from a black strapless number -- that had a polished, shredded effect. Coincidence that it comes just weeks after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shredded a copy of U.S. President Trump's State of the Union address on live TV?
''She's an incredible woman,'' Andrew said of Pelosi. ''She is powerful, she is strong, she is comfortable with herself. She is everything I admire in a woman.''
ANNAKIKI REPRESENTS CHINA IN MILAN
Annakiki creator and designer Anna Yang filled her Milan runway with a zany collection of expertly constructed, playful silhouettes.
As the only Chinese brand originally on the Milan schedule that was able to keep its runway appointment, Yang was ''very emotional about the show,'' said an associate, who goes by Meng. ''She's worried about public opinion.''
The show was packed, including Capasa in the front row, and her return to making an upbeat and fun collection after a more commercial last season was popular with the fashion crowd.
That included a multi-tiered bubble ruffle dress, an overcoat with accentuated sleeves and a bubble skirt finish, and a mini-dress with puffy circular shoulders contrasting with the tightly cinched waist — all in bright hues of pink or orange. For him, there was an oversize tan plaid suit jacket that looked as if it had been mauled, revealing purple undertones.
Yang makes all of her accessories and part of her ready-to-wear collection in Italy, and the other half in Shenzhen, China. The collection was mostly complete before the Chinese New Year and in Milan before flights closed. Three other Chinese brands had to pull out of Milan Fashion Week due to travel issues related to the virus.
Annakiki's Chinese factory was able to open last week after a three-week closure, Meng said. But business still faces a tough recovery in China, where traffic at 24 monobrand stores has been ''down to zero,'' she said.
The brand is also available in eight cities outside Asia, including London, Paris and Florence as well as online.
MISSONI'S GEOMETRIC MISSION
Angela Missoni presented a co-ed collection bursting with youthful touches for mixing and matching.
For her, there were light-weight knit tunics with diagonal stripes, worn with dark horizontally striped leggings. Overcoats were oversized and enveloping. Layered cardigans were worn with loose knit pants tucked into boots.
Looks were finished with glittery knit gardening gloves, kerchiefs around the neck or Renaissance painter hats.
The uniting theme was geometry: stripes of all types, that is horizontal, diagonal, vertical, triangular and patchwork.
For him, geometric patterns clashed on a clean silhouette: a knit top of tiny bursts, patchwork pants and houndstooth overcoat covered with triangle patches.
Sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid closed the Missoni show, side-by-side, fittingly for the brand that is still firmly in family hands.
ERMANNO SCERVINO'S FEMININE BEAUTY
Lace and embroidery lent beauty to Ermanno Scervino's ever-light creations for next fall and winter.
Strong floral embroidery, white on black, gave a Nordic edge to belted overcoats and ponchos, and a couture touch to puffer coats. Sequins became a glam daytime office look on a green asymmetrical skirt paired with a knit turtleneck. Pretty transparent pleated skirts were worn over sequined layers for a pretty impact. Slip dresses ranged from leather and lace combos in black to white-on-white embroidery. Beautiful golden lame suits will light up any holiday party next season.
''It's an unconditional celebration of beautiful femininity,'' Scervino said in show notes.
Milan Fashion Week opened Wednesday with outreach to China, largely cut off from the rest of the world by a new virus, and to Africa, often overlooked by luxury except as references.
New York-based Chinese designer Han Wen presented a runway show on the eve of the main calendar, standing in for three Chinese designers who had been scheduled to show in Milan but were blocked by the spread of the new coronavirus.
As will be key events this week, Han's show was shared on Chinese social media platforms as part of the Milan Fashion Chamber initiative "China We Are With You," reaching out to the estimated 1,000 journalists, buyers and industry insiders in China who won't be able to make it to Milan as planned this season.
The Milan Fashion Hub also featured collections by five African designers, showing for the first time in Milan and who will be given visibility in some of the 11 luxury shopping outlet villages operated by the Value Retail Group.
Highlights from the first day of women's wear 2020-21 fall-winter previews:
BACKSTAGE AT GUCCI
Back-stages secrets were out in the open at Gucci. Models were made up in the foyer as the fashion crowd arrived for the show. And they dressed on a rotating runway at the center of a circular show room, overseen by creative director Alessandro Michele, just out of view in the center.
Michele said he wanted to demystify back-stage rituals, which he likened in a series of mixed metaphors to a religious rite, to cinema, to a circus.
''We are all on that stage. Fashion is a complex mechanism, a sacred thing. We all work for this rite that is almost religious,'' Michele told reporters after the show.
The collection reflected his mix of costuming and eccentricity, offering to the growing Gucci tribe multitudinous expressions that are gender fluid but also allow perhaps a pure form of self-expression by diving deep into the psyche.
As in menswear, Michele explored children's clothes for adults, and it is not a stretch to say that his Gucci tenure, in its sixth year, is also sort of elaborate dress-up game, giving men and women the freedom to express themselves in ways they perhaps wouldn't imagine on their own. Or, better put, to create a self they may only recognize when they see it on the runway.
How else to explain a baby-doll dress worn with patent leather collar, a French maid's lace-trim mini-uniform with torn stockings and a riding hat and studded booties, or a pilgrim collar on a long black velvet dress and a large flat-top hat, tiered ball gowns straight out of a Little Women costume drama, and a bonnet with cat ears worn with a small smock dress.
''I did a bit the job of a costume designer, looking at things almost as a disguise,'' Michele said. ''Then there were things done with great abundance, like bows that appeared to be created at the last minute by a mother, that belonged to other eras of childhood.''
No. 21 CELEBRATES A DECADE
Alessandro Dell' Acqua celebrated a decade of his No. 21 brand with new twists of his brand classics -- and with an updated remix of his favorite Pat Benatar number, ''Love is a Battlefield,'' which habitually closes the show.
An oversized man's shirt in a classic blue-and-white stripe was the centerpiece of the women's wear collection. It was worn suggestively as a mini dress under knitwear decorated with safety pin-patterned bursts, or with a sequin slit skirt and matching jacket with shearling accents.
Lace and florals, feathers and sequins underscored the feminine attitude, which got an edge with punk hardware like chain accents on shoes, along plunging necklines or as a belt and halter on an emerald green sequin dress. The oversize silhouette in, say, a leather jumpsuit was contrasted with a form-fitting sweater tucked into a skirt in contrasting plaids befitting Milan's bourgeois, which has inspired generations of Italian designers.
''I worked on all everything that has been my obsession over these last 10 years, but without nostalgia because I didn't want be self-referential,'' Dell' Acqua said backstage.
ARTHUR ARBESSER'S MILAN LOVE LETTER
Arthur Arbesser described his latest collection as a love letter to his adopted city of Milan, taking cues from its architecture and inspiration from friends who have become his muses and artisans.
The looks were slightly more sophisticated and more sensual than in the past. ''A little bit more grown up,'' Arbesser conceded backstage.
A crinkled silk skirt contrasted fluidly with a chunky mohair vest and turtleneck in matching geometric patterns -- which the designer said is inspired by grand Milanese staircases. Architecture is also reflected in the squared shoulders of a sleeveless dress in a shimmering block-print. Another print has a painterly feel but was inspired by museum-grade plates created by designer Marco Guazzini, who also collaborated on the buttons and belt buckles created from marble dust and wool.
Arbesser said friends and muses joined the models on the runway. ''This is collection is dedicated to Milan, to my friends, to what a stranger says when he comes to Milan,'' the Vienna native said.
PRETTY MINIMALISM AT JIL SANDER
Designing couple Lucie and Luke Meier continue to make minimalist pretty at Jil Sander, defying what may be the conventional view of the fashion movement.
While one might think that minimalism eschews embellishment, the Meiers have managed to incorporate it in wisps of ruffling hemlines and strands of silky fringe that give the eye just bit of candy.
The runway show in a cavernous space that will soon house a new design museum, and wooden chairs lined the interior of the runway, as if to underscore grace in utility.
The color palette remained disciplined monochromes, in pale shades of ivory, egg shell and yellow along side stronger tones of navy blue, black or red, with two uncharacteristic florals. The silhouette ranged to belted jackets on pantsuits, to voluminous bubble coats with the sort of puffy arms that were seen all over this red carpet season.
MILAN SHOWCASES YOUNG AFRICAN DESIGNERS
Abrima Erwiah was inspired by Italy's artisanal heritage to co-found Studio 189, working with craftsman from Ghana and other African nations.
''I just saw what it was like to visit second- and third-generation artisans in Italy,'' said Erwiah, whose father came from Ghana and mother from Mississippi ''People were living with dignity and they could send their kids to school and do all these great things.''
Through the brand founded in 2013, she and her co-founder Rosario Dawson are trying to help be agents of social change in Ghana, where they work with artisanal communities and have a factory.
The Studio 189 collection was one of five presented by young African brands on the sidelines of Milan Fashion Week, along with Gozel Green, Omer Asim, Thebe Magugu and Maison ARTC. The Studio 189 looks included indigo and batik cottons in long, festive silhouettes, like a a multi-tier red and white triangle print with a black-and-white diamond print top.
Erwiah said the Studio 189 business model was built on sustainability and inclusion ''before they were buzz words.''
''I worry about things that are buzz words, because they are cool today and they are not cool tomorrow. Meanwhile I will still be standing there.''
Kendall Jenner and fellow super models unveiled Burberry's new season designs at London Fashion Week on Monday, a collection that spanned everything from classic and ladylike to sexy, preppy and street-smart.
That approach — showcasing designs tailored to diverse tastes — may now be particularly important to the luxury heritage fashion brand, which has recently reported a significant dent in its business in China, a key market, due to the virus outbreak.
The signature Burberry check was ubiquitous. A three-piece women's suit consisted of a cropped waistcoat, patchwork blazer, skin tight trousers and ankle boots, all in variations of the check. Elsewhere, there were nods to punk, such as deconstructed shirts in pink, red and lilac.
Design chief Riccardo Tisci also presented some sexier, sassy looks, from high-shine black vinyl to slinky dresses that hugged the body and featured strategic cut-outs. Jenner strutted in a checked bustier, layered under a semi-sheer white skirt and white boots.
The beige trench coat — an item synonymous with the brand since founder Thomas Burberry first designed it in weather-proof gabardine fabric more than a century ago — featured, of course. Some came softly draped in a timeless feminine style; others were much more flamboyant, featuring furry arms and collars.
One such head-turning outfit saw a shimmering bright lime catsuit paired with a matching coat with fluffy fur trim.
The catwalk show, which drew celebrities including Cate Blanchett to its front row, is one of the glitziest highlights of London Fashion Week.
Burberry will be hoping it goes some ways to boost business. The brand, which gets some 40% of its revenue from Chinese consumers shopping globally, has had to shut 24 of 64 stores in China as a result of the virus outbreak.
Oversized bows, exaggerated puffed sleeves and luxe jewel tones. Everything sparkled with sequins at Badgley Mischka's show Saturday which played up the glamour of "Downton Abbey," with the Beatles' bohemian Abbey Road era.
In an interview backstage, Mark Badgley said the label is designing for the woman who "still wants to take time and make herself feel special and indulge and buy a beautiful piece of clothing."
"She can wear them over and over again or let her daughters have them," he said.
Mother and daughter Hilaria Baldwin sat in the front row next to husband Alec Baldwin. On his lap, he held their young daughter Carmen, who wore a black bow headband. The family said they were delighted to cheer on the fashion duo.
"These two men are such titans of the fashion world and it's really — we're happy to come and help celebrate them and what they're doing," Alec Baldwin told The Associated Press.
Rapper Jeezy, who wore a burgundy suit and sat next girlfriend and TV host Jeannie Mae, said he loves playing with fashion and reusing pieces in different ways.
"The whole experience ... just getting the vibe, love it. Fashion week is dope," he said.
The gowns had more minimal silhouettes but every piece had a special touch, an oversized bell sleeve, ruffled collar, giant bow or a plunging beaded neckline.
The dowager would certainly raise an eyebrow if Lady Mary and Lady Edith came dressed to dinner in a showstopping gown with a pale gold, beaded bodice that dipped straight to the belly button into a full skirt pleated skirt with whimsical puffs of feathers and leaf like appliques.
A ho-hum everyday grey tweed suit skirt was glamorized with subtle sparkles, exaggerated puff sleeves and belted waist. Bold florals featured heavily in the collection, including a modern take on a coat dress with a plunging neckline and asymmetrical skirt.
Everything shimmered, from everyday coats to strapless, evening gowns to a stunning pantsuit tied effortlessly at the waist. The models wore a bold ruby lip and were heavy on accessories including ornately beaded almost backward headbands that turned into ear cuffs.
Velvets and jewel tons, including rich emerald greens and burgundies inspired by the painter John Singer Sargent who was known for his Edwardian-era luxury, featured prominently, along with shimmering black, gold and silver evening looks.
Even the designer took a cue from the collection. Badgley embellished his broken arm with a black sequin sling.
James Mischka noted the collection will hit the stores this fall during a pivotal election year and what may be a "very fraught time in this country." The focus was to armor women with clothes to make her feel "empowered and beautiful and safe."
"When an airplane flies above the clouds instead of through the storm, that's what we're dressing her for," he said.