KEY POINTS

  • Milan Fashion Week is being threatened by a dearth of tourists and buyers caused by the COVID-19 outbreak raging in northern Italy
  • The outbreak forced Armani to cancel its live show and stream the event online
  • Italy now has 152 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the fourth largest number in the world, as well as two deaths

Italy's world famous fashion houses are fretting about the financial impact the COVID-19 outbreak will have on their tourism-dependent business -- and the effects of this disease are now becoming plain to see.

The coronavirus' reputation as a business and tourism killer was proven in France, which has just announced a huge 30% to 40% fall in tourism numbers from the outbreak. More worrisome for Italy is the outbreak is occurring in the Lombardy region of which Milan is the capital -- and Milan is Italy's fashion capital.

Milan fashion week includes more than 40 shows each season and transforms the city into a must-see tourist hotspot invaded by millions. The fabulous fashion shows are held in the city's most elegant and influential palaces such as the Palazzo Reale Milano (or the Royal Palace of Milan) and the neoclassical Palazzo Serbelloni, drawing tourists by the thousands.

In Milan, the ongoing Milan Fashion Week 2020, whose autumn/winter event started this month and will last until March, is seeing weaker visitor and shopper numbers. The Italian National Fashion Chamber has forecast a 2% contraction in first-half revenues due to the outbreak in northern Italy which began with a single Italian spreading the disease to 39 other persons. The outbreak in China has also scared away Chinese tourists that are responsible for one-third of global luxury sales.

“For the moment the situation is under control,’’ said Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian National Fashion Chamber. "It doesn’t seem to me, in this moment, for what regards our sector, our fashion week, that there are signs of danger. We are tranquil and prudent."

The reality on the ground plaguing Italy's world renowned fashion houses tells another story, however. For the first time in its glorious 45-year history, famed Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani cancelled a live show due to public-health concerns and staged its Milan Fashion Week show without an audience.

To prevent contagion from the virus, Armani opted instead to livestream footage of the show held Sunday on the internet. Armani said it did this to keep guests safe after more than 130 cases of COVID-19 were reported in northern Italy.

“The show will be shown behind closed doors, due to the recent developments of coronavirus in Italy, live-streamed in front of an empty teatro [theater] on the Armani website, therefore please do not attend the show this afternoon,” said Armani in a statement earlier Sunday. “The decision was taken to safeguard the well-being of all his invited guests by not having them attend crowded spaces.”

Italy now has 152 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the fourth largest number in the world, as well as two deaths.