How we react to coronavirus reveals the humanity at the heart of our community.
BY MARK HOOPER
At times of crisis, the last thing most of us want to hear about is how the privileged and the super-wealthy are dealing with it. Which leaves the fashion world in something of a quandary. We are all worried, of course – and also aware that the COVID-19 outbreak makes us weigh up the things that really matter. Fancy clothes don’t seem to feature high on that list.
But that’s a simplistic soundbite that doesn’t take into consideration that the fashion industry, like all other businesses, depends on – and provides a working wage for – millions of ‘real’ people.
And, for every live feed of a celebrity self-isolating, there are heartwarming examples of individuals and brands who have taken the time to think about what they can do to help. True, we can’t all be LVMH luxury group Chief Executive Bernard Arnault, who announced on March 15 that the company’s perfume and cosmetic factories were being repurposed to produce free hand sanitizer instead. (A magnanimous gesture that not only offers a practical solution to deal with immediate demand but also keeps factory workers in employment when everyone is worried about their job security.) But we can all think about something we can do ourselves that makes a difference – be it checking up on our neighbors or considering what transferable skills we have that apply to the many challenges that the current pandemic poses.
In such circumstances, of course, we all respond in different – equally valid – ways. Humour is often one of the best responses, reminding us to not lose our sense of self. Witness Marc Jacobs sharing a spoof Public Healthcare Announcement via his personal IG account, revealing that the ‘Shit Show’ of misinformation surrounding the virus is as dangerous as Covid-19 itself. In a separate post, he explains, ‘I am taking it very seriously. Still, I have a sense of humor that I’m wearing as well. Maybe it helps with the fear…’ And stressing to his followers: ‘Be safe everyone. Be compassionate. Spread LOVE not fear.’ A similar sentiment was shared by US designer Jerry Lorenzo (‘At the very least let’s make sure we come out on the other side of this time as better, nicer, more compassionate and considerate human beings’).
One’s true nature is often revealed in such circumstances. We can clear the supermarket shelves of items vital for the needy and infirm; we can stockpile toilet paper, medicine – even guns – ahead of the coming lockdown. Or we can look out for each other and show some humanity.
Corporate messages and policy updates are, of course, important to businesses. But nothing cuts through like a simple handwritten note that shows someone is thinking about their customers and not themselves (Sir Paul Smith), or a long and heartfelt message addressed to your audience and thinking about the ‘long tail’ of care (Brandon Maxwell). Likewise, Clare Waight Keller has used her profile to thank (and give a face to) the behind-the-scenes team at Givenchy. The theme of social responsibility has been picked up, best delivered via simple, Instagram-friendly slogans, as seen from French designer Simon Porte Jacquemus (‘Stay At Home: It has never been easier to save lives’); Anya Hindmarch’s heartfelt extension of hope, Ermenegildo Zegna (‘Our actions today impact tomorrow’).
Visual artist Juan Delcan’s animation of a matchstick stepping out of line to prevent the spread of fire – a brilliantly simple and effective way to illustrate the importance of isolation in fighting viral infection – has gone viral itself, being shared around the fashion community (at the time of writing, the original has had 850,000 views – the combined reach via luxury brands and celebrities is off the scale).
There has, of course, been a huge outpouring of messages in solidarity with the people of Italy, who are currently bearing the brunt of the ‘curve’ in Europe (Neil Barrett; Alber Elbaz; Peter Dundas; Pierpaolo Piccioli) – and Milan in particular, a city at the heart of fashion’s global community. There have been examples of huge generosity – Donatella Versace personally donating €200,000 to a Milan hospital, while Moncler as a company has donated €10 million to the building of a new hospital dedicated to the fight against COVID-19 on the site of Milan’s former fairground (matching the figure pledged by Italy’s former PM, Silvia Berlusconi).
Of course, not everyone can make such grand gestures – but if anything positive can be gleaned from the coronavirus scare, it’s how communities have connected and supported each other at the most human – and humane – of levels.
Header Photo | Anya Hindmarch’s “A Love Letter to London” Chubby Hearts installation, 2019