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."