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Seoul Fashion Week canceled due to outbreak: Designers fear losses after industry’s biggest event gets called off

Feb 26,2020
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Models walk the runway at the 2019 Spring/Summer Hera Seoul Fashion Week held in October 2018. As the coronavirus outbreak grows, Korea’s largest fashion event has been canceled. [JOONGANG ILBO]
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Left: Models at the 2020 Spring/Summer Shanghai Fashion Week held last October. The organizing committee of the event recently postponed its upcoming 2020 Fall/Winter shows due to the coronavirus. Right: Visitors look around at the Seoul Living Design Fair, the largest lifestyle event held in Korea, in 2018. The fair, which will take place in March, has scrapped some of its events amid rising concerns over the coronavirus. [SHANGHAI FASHION WEEK , JOONGANG ILBO]
The coronavirus outbreak is hitting the fashion industry hard all around the world.

While runways in Milan and Paris are still showing off what will be in vogue in the upcoming fall and winter season, with some shows being live-streamed behind closed doors without any attendees, Seoul Fashion Week has been canceled, the Seoul Design Foundation announced Tuesday.

The 2020 Fall/Winter Seoul Fashion Week was slated to begin on March 17 and run through March 21 at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) in central Seoul. A few weeks earlier, the foundation announced that it will proceed with holding Seoul Fashion Week as planned but only cancel or scale down some of the side events that get held both in and outside the main venue of DDP, like Generation Next, a show for new brands, and Fashion KODE 2020, a trade fair.

“With the level of danger of the coronavirus being raised from caution to danger recently, holding events intended for unspecified random people or massive demonstrations has been banned. We eventually decided to cancel the fashion event,” said an official working at the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

The entire DDP, except for several commercial facilities run by individual businesses, will be shut down as a countermeasure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Hosted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and organized by the Seoul Design Foundation, Seoul Fashion Week is the largest fashion event held domestically. As the event is celebrating its 20th year in 2020, organizers had been making efforts to expand the number of programs.

Most events, performances and concerts require weeks to months of preparation time. However many fashion industry insiders say that it is more difficult to call off an event as large as Seoul Fashion Week.

“Young fashion designers have been putting in all their time, money and effort just for this opportunity, and the organizers are fully aware of that,” said Park Hee-jin, a fashion designer who runs her own boutique in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul. “On top of that, since this event is so closely connected to business plans where foreign buyers come and make contracts, a lot has to be planned out, thought about and managed compared to other events.”

That is why, according to Park, many fashion industry insiders assumed that Seoul Fashion Week wouldn’t be entirely canceled.

The foundation held an emergency meeting on Monday evening after collecting the opinions of participating fashion designers.

“With the coronavirus showing no sign of slowing down, about one-third of the participating designers called in early Monday morning and said they want to cancel their shows. We asked what other designers thought about the issue and made a final decision,” said an official from the city government.

Moreover, the organizers said they were uncertain whether foreign buyers would even visit the event let alone come to Korea, which has elevated the official alert level to the highest level on Sunday.

“We believed that pushing ahead with the event will only taint the Seoul Fashion Week’s 20-year reputation,” explained an official from the foundation.

A myriad of foreign buyers, fashion industry insiders and fashionistas converge on DDP twice a year to get a peek at the collections from local designers and get ahead on the upcoming trends.

Last fall, a total of 34 local fashion brands staged shows as part of the Seoul Collection, a main pillar of the event, while 20 brands from up-and-coming designers presented collections as part of the Generation Next shows.

In addition, there was a buyer exhibition, in which 120 designer brands participated. The fashion week also provides a number of side events such as seminars, fashion summits and mentoring programs for designer hopefuls.

During Seoul Fashion Week, runway shows are held multiple times a day in confined spaces. Additionally, the events are open to the public, making it difficult for organizers to monitor who is coming in and out.

Before making the cancellation, the foundation had said they would disinfect the venue from “top to bottom” and that “all the venues will be disinfected before every fashion show, and the doorknobs [would] be sterilized every three hours.”

The organizers could have considered closed-door fashion shows like some shows that were held in Europe.

However, unlike the European shows that are already well established with shows of already renowned fashion brands, the main purpose of Seoul Fashion Week is connecting domestic fashion designers with overseas buyers.

The city government said it would refund 100 percent of participation costs to all the designers. But some designers have said that the city government is not good at handling the overall cancellation procedure.

“I didn’t get any notification regarding the cancellation until I inquired first. I just got a text message on Tuesday morning that the entire fashion week was called off,” a designer who wished to remain anonymous said.

With the cancellation of fashion week, the burden is all on designers, and there is no way for them to be fully compensated for all the expenses used on the production of sample clothes and preparing for their runway shows.

Since the main purpose of fashion week is connecting domestic fashion designers with overseas buyers, designers also lose chances to present their final collections.

But the city government said, “We will support domestic designers so that they can sign contracts with overseas buyers in the near future.”

Similar fashion events around the globe have also adjusted their schedules in recent weeks. For example, the 2020 Fall/Winter Shanghai Fashion Week, slated to open on March 26, has been postponed.

The organizing committee for Shanghai’s fashion week announced its decision on Feb. 11 through the fashion week’s official account on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media platform.

Shanghai’s fashion week is the largest held in mainland China.

Another fashion event, China Fashion Week, which was supposed to be held in Beijing starting on March 25, has been postponed indefinitely.

Art Basel Hong Kong, which was supposed to run from March 19 to 21, was also canceled due to the coronavirus. Art Basel Hong Kong is the largest art market event in Asia.

Many big-name fashion houses have put a halt to their scheduled fashion events, too.

Chanel recently released a statement and said it will postpone a fashion event that it was planning to hold in Beijing in May.

Prada has called off a resort collection show it was planning to hold in Japan in May.

Growing concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus also reached Italy’s 2020 Fall/Winter Milan Fashion Week.

The National Chamber of Italian Fashion, the organizing committee for Milan Fashion Week, said earlier this month that it would not invite Chinese brands, designers and buyers to the seven-day-long fashion event. Instead, the organizer opened a web stream for Chinese buyers to use to watch the major events.

Milan Fashion Week is considered one of the world’s four major fashion events, along with fashion weeks held in New York, Paris and London.

Since Chinese people are big spenders in the world’s luxury goods market, more than a thousand Chinese officials, including buyers, the press and fashion industry insiders reportedly take part in Milan Fashion Week every year.

Outside of the fashion world, lifestyle trade shows in Korea are also being overshadowed by the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The Seoul Living Design Fair, which will run from March 11 to 15 at Coex, southern Seoul, also said some of its events will be canceled.

Organizers recently said it would call off its seminar programs where invited guests from overseas give lectures.

Swiss design group Big-Game was one of the key speakers scheduled to appear at this year’s fair.

The Seoul Living Design Fair is the largest lifestyle fair show held in the country. About 300 companies are involved in the annual event.

The fair had 28,000 visitors last year alone.

Although seminars were canceled, the main events will proceed as scheduled.

“The venue is spacious, so the density of visitors is not that high,” said an official working at the fair. “We plan to disinfect the entire venue every hour.”

But the Befe Baby Fair, a baby supplies fair for parents and parents-to-be, has canceled its event that was slated for March 20.

“Because of the coronavirus, we decided to cancel the event for the sake of our visitors’ safety,” the organizer wrote in a statement.

The fair attracts up to 100,000 visitors every year.

BY YOO JI-YOEN, YIM SEUNG-HYE [estyle@joongang.co.kr]