LONDON: Hand sanitizers were set to become the new must-have accessory as London Fashion Week opened Friday, in what was expected to be a subdued gathering hit by the absence of many Chinese attendees because of coronavirus.
Kicking off the catwalk shows was Chinese designer Yuhan Wang, however, who overcame the difficulties wrought by the virus outbreak to present a first solo collection of Victorian-inspired waisted jackets and black lace blouses.
British Fashion Council Chief Executive Caroline Rush warned that numbers would be down due to coronavirus and some designers were struggling because of the shut-down of transport links and factories in China.
"We've had one designer that isn't able to show because their collection hasn't arrived from China due to the logistics issues," Rush told Reuters ahead of the show's opening.
The fashion industry as a whole is facing a problematic few months if restrictions on travelling and working continue in China, the world's largest producer of textiles.
The virus, which originated in China late last year, has claimed more than 1,380 lives and spread to other countries.
Rush said that London Fashion Week was taking precautions against the spread of the virus by providing anti-bacterial sanitizers and undertaking regular deep-cleaning.
"Hygiene is a priority ... there is anti-bacterial everywhere," she said.
She also said that London Fashion Week would ensure Chinese journalists, buyers and social media influencers who can't attend can still join in.
"We have been finding partners like Business of Fashion China to push that content out," she said, adding that content would also be promoted on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat.
Luxury labels like Gucci-owner Kering have already warned that coronavirus will mean smaller crowds at the month-long catwalk season. The London leg is due to be followed by shows in Milan and Paris later this month.
Lower Chinese attendance is potentially a major blow for fashion brands since Chinese spending accounted for a third of luxury global market sales in 2018, according to Bain & Company.