There’s no pattern for a pandemic: fashion during coronavirus
We asked fashion creatives how the pandemic is affecting them, from cancelled jobs and calls for self-improvement to cries for help and compassion.
Across the world, people are being confined to their homes, as the coronavirus pandemic escalates. The situation is unfolding at breakneck speed, with advice and emotions fluctuating each day. While some people crowd supermarkets, hoarding food and toilet roll, others cannot access basic necessities. While some roam freely, flouting official advice, others are in full lockdown. Issues that have hung heavy over the fashion industry for decades have been thrown into sharp relief. Luxury conglomerates are donating millions of euros’ worth of medical equipment and brands are mobilising their sewing teams to make masks from home. At the same time, independent brands are struggling to make ends meet, and the swathes of freelancers who populate the fashion industry are left floundering as jobs are cancelled and financial support is lacking.
This is all to say that coronavirus has highlighted vast inequalities. When we reached out to ask fashion creatives how the pandemic had affected them, this much was evident. Some responses are lighthearted; we were sent memes that have alleviated boredom, captured complex feelings and simply provided comic relief. Other responses were heavier. In these snippets of life during coronavirus, we hope you find silver linings and solidarity in equal measure. Stay safe, stay indoors, stay in touch.
Aimee McWilliams (creative director, fashion designer, lecturer)
The virus has ground everything to a halt. Despite living in London, 80% of my work for the year was with international clients, largely in China. I’m adapting, using technologies to communicate and finding new ways. I can’t help but think there’s a divine intervention at play, forcing the people of the world to question their every move.
It started to go weird for me as soon as the news about Wuhan hit. I should have been in China three times already this year, but all of my trips have been cancelled. Everybody is scared and the economy is crashing, so people are pulling the budget on new projects. At the same time, I can’t be present in Chinese factories at the moment to sort out my manufacturing.
It’s not all doom and gloom. I had a lot of projects in the pipeline which were future-gazing: What is the future of fashion going to look like? How can we move things along quicker? I think we should be pushing forward on those projects, given the circumstances. There are so many solutions in the works and a lot haven’t made enough progress because fashion is constantly on treadmills, running at really high speeds.
This photo shows the disinfection station/cupboard we created at home, where all deliveries are cleaned or quarantined according to how long the virus lasts on different materials. The rest of the time, my face is covered in stickers – the madness of quarantining with three babies under the age of three!
I’ve been listening to Helado Negro, which is beautiful, serene escapism. It’s great for three generations living under one roof in isolation (I’m living with my mum and sister at the moment).
Fabian Kis-Juhasz (fashion designer)
To be honest, the outbreak hasn’t really affected my lifestyle or work. I always work from home and rarely leave the house. I’m currently at my mom’s house in Budapest, where I luckily have a little working space and many cats to keep me entertained.
My main source of entertainment and social interaction by proxy has been coming from The Sims. I literally made myself and all of my friends in the game. My Sim, Fabian, has really been living it up, partying all the time. I have been living in awful leggings and T-shirts, but she has been super experimental with her style! That said, the current situation has made her quite depressed, so I often find her crying in the bathtub.
In terms of music, I have been craving catharsis: angsty, misunderstood teenage anthems and sad melodies in contrast with high energy pop songs. I made a playlist called ‘NEUROTIC TEENAGE GIRL ENERGY.’ I am going to try and make some TikTok videos.
Christina Seewald (fashion designer)
I was in quarantine for two weeks, because I showed all signs of COVID-19 after coming back from the Paris showrooms. It turned out to be negative, but I am still trying to maintain my home quarantine to protect others. Now, I am working from home in Vienna. Luckily, my home is also my studio. Obviously, I am not allowed to have my team here with me, but I can continue working with certain limitations. I was very anxious for the first week of isolation. It helps that people are starting to take action and responsibility.
I have been listening to the whole ‘Complete Music’ album from New Order. Also some Sia, Gazebo and Vanessa Paradis.
My uncle caught the virus last Thursday and died the following Monday. I have lost two family members to coronavirus now, but my family can’t grieve together because of isolation and hospital-issued quarantines for those in contact with my uncle before the fact. This thing is no joke. I can’t bear the attitude of platforms that believe they are above this and are attempting to keep business as usual. People are dying. People are going bankrupt overnight.
My thoughts are currently focused on how much we’ve internalised capitalism. While we need to survive, I am again reminded of what does and doesn’t matter. We are afraid to rest. We are afraid to be still. We are afraid to have nothing to do, because we have internalised the ideology that what we do is the only route to happiness. This crisis is revealing all of this.
“We need to stop jumping on jobs from friends of friends, without contracts or kill fees and contingencies in place. We need collective protection, transparency and emergent strategies. We need each other desperately.”
It’s so sad and so confusing, especially for freelancers, who are in such a precarious position. While the above is important, I can’t deny that we are scared because our livelihoods are at stake. Most of us don’t know when we will next be paid or get another job, or what our futures will look like. The freelance economy is so fragile. There are so many grey areas. We need to stop jumping on jobs from friends of friends, without contracts or kill fees and contingencies in place. We need collective protection, transparency and emergent strategies. We need each other desperately.
“We are afraid to rest. We are afraid to be still. We are afraid to have nothing to do, because we have internalised the ideology that what we do is the only route to happiness.”
I was meant to be in LA for work next week. I have been curating an event for a new space in Peckham called MARKET and my book was meant to launch at the end of April. All of these things have been postponed. I have no clue when I will be refunded or paid or hired again and it sucks. It sucks not to be launching my book, which has been more than a year in the making. I have no idea when it will be the right moment to launch now. When you are doing so much on your own and you don’t have the support of a publishing house, a large corporation or a PR company, these things completely shatter you.
Cecilia Alba Luè (junior editor, Harper’s Bazaar Italia)
Today, we are entering the third week of total lockdown in Milan. Only food stores, pharmacies and hospitals remain open. The streets and squares of our city are empty and silent. Towards evening, someone plays an instrument on the balcony, or puts on a De Gregori song. Outside the supermarkets, people equipped with gloves and masks wait hours in a single file line, at a safe distance, to buy basic necessities.
Lombardy is the most affected region, with cities like Bergamo and Brescia facing dramatic situations. In Milan, the situation is better for now, even if the infections are increasing. Our wonderful Mayor updates and encourages us on video call every morning and has started a fundraising programme to protect the Milanese families in difficulty once this is all over. In this tragedy, I feel my city and my country gather in solidarity and hope, as Spring has arrived. Just remember: stay home, but stay cool!
Today, I am wearing flared trousers with a hippy-ish flower print, my boyfriend’s cashmere jumper and a white shirt. Who wears a shirt at home? Me, because of my daily conference call with the Harper’s Bazaar team!
I’m also listening to Frank Ocean’s discography on repeat, while waiting for him to drop a new single and inject some sense into my quarantined life. Please, Frank!
Chloé Nardin (fashion designer)
I am so lucky that I am in the research phase of my new collection, so I don’t have to be in the studio right now. I feel very grateful to be a student and feel very strongly for my peers in the real world, the ones who just graduated or are supposed to graduate soon.
It is difficult to be abroad when all of my family are back in France. Call your family! I just spent 45 minutes on the phone to my grandmother, explaining how she can watch the news on her computer. She was stuck in fullscreen mode and was freaking out!
I’m donating to a food bank (the Trussel Trust has a donation window on the website homepage). If they strengthen the quarantine measures, I will put a little note in my neighbours’ mail, in case anyone is struggling. I think we should all start by caring for our own building.
Laura Krarup Frandsen (Extinction Rebellion fashion activist)
I’m shamelessly casual when working from home (and most of the time, to be honest). Today, I’m wearing my ugliest, comfiest, high-waist jogging pants, so I can get through a whole day of work, walks, yoga breaks, eating and giving zero fucks about how I look while doing so! I’m also wearing home-knitted socks and a massive chunky knit jumper so I can keep my room temperature low and save energy. I’ve been giving my hair a break from washing and my skin a break from make-up, which is lush.
I saw something online that said: “Some people are asked to go to war. You are asked to sit on your couch. You can get through this.” Sadly, most people don’t care until an issue is at their doorstep – I’ve seen this with the climate and ecological crisis I’m fighting too. This just proves to me how far our society is from understanding that we need to act with precautionary principles, showing humanity, compassion and sacrifice.
I’m trying to shake off any fear, panic or anxiety with some good old 1960s/70s rock music. Besides that, I’m enjoying being surrounded by my plants and thousands of little rainbows from my crystal window prisms.
At the moment, I’m switching between sitting at my desk, working on my laptop and sitting on my couch, working on restoring vintage clothes. I’m part of a community-based Facebook group for my council, to help high risk people in my local community with daily chores such as shopping and dog walking. I think this will be extremely busy within the next couple of weeks.
Sinéad O’Dwyer (fashion designer)
My wife, Ottilie, has been quarantine pickling and my granny is quarantine baking – she’s 95! I’m still working in my studio in Wood Green, because it’s near my home. So far, I’ve cancelled all meetings and my side job has been cancelled indefinitely. I’m also working on a wedding dress but the wedding has been postponed until November. Thankfully, I was in the research and development stage of my new work, so I have the resources I need at hand.
The biggest impact on my work is the exhibition I recently opened in New York – it shut after just one week. That’s very disappointing, but I’m glad that people are taking the virus seriously and galleries have closed. It’s really important to stop the virus spreading further.
We have elderly neighbours, so we are keeping an eye out for them (while maintaining social distance of course!). The main thing we are doing to help other people is not hoarding medicines or food. There is a Whatsapp group for the Wood Green/Tottenham Hale/Seven Sisters area, where you can sign up to help people in need.
I’ve seen some really good memes – especially the ones from @godimsuchadyke and @upgradeaccessibility. The Death Panel podcast just released a COVID Year Zero episode, which is definitely worth a listen. The Leo 2020: BBZ Full Moon Playlist is great too.
Sophie Wilson (freelance fashion writer)
I haven’t worn make-up or a bra for a week. There have been so many memes that have made me laugh and feel less anxious. I loved this video and all of the Peep Show memes on Facebook. The Happy Broadcast has been helping too. I’ve been listening to a really good isolation playlist too; it’s called ‘Quarantine Boogie.’
I work freelance and I’ve had work postponed because we can’t do shoots at the moment. I’m thankful that I still have an income from other projects, but it’s definitely been stressful and I feel very uncertain about the future. Many people have lost their jobs and the government has yet to announce a plan to help people who are in precarious employment like freelance artists and those with zero hour contracts. As I’m still able to work, I’m going to use a percentage of the money I make throughout the pandemic to support individuals and independently run businesses affected.
Sydney Pimbley (fashion designer)
I am used to being alone at the beginning of a collection, but the virus is really going to reduce sales. There will also be a significant loss of exposure, because there are no shoots happening at the moment. As a sustainable designer, I am interested to see the environmental impact of the pandemic. Hopefully, it will increase awareness and shed light on different ways to approach travel, factory-manufacturing and material-sourcing.
My room at home is very warm, so I am working in summer dresses. The excessive radiator situation means I have permanent cat company too – it’s nice having another being in the room during solitary confinement. I’ve been calling friends and family to keep conversation alive and check how everyone is faring in this strange and isolating time. My mum and I sent letters to our neighbours at home and at the allotment, saying we are available to help with shopping and medicine retrievals.
I saw a quote on Business of Fashion from Doug Stephens which helped me: “Use this time to reinvent how you do what you do, bring consumers new alternatives, new value, and in the process even reinvent your own brand. Don’t let innovation stop, because this could be the window of opportunity.”
Heather Glazzard (photographer)
I lost two fashion shoots when the UK imposed social distancing measures and the part-time job I had lined up was cancelled. This morning, I applied for universal credit with my partner, Nora. We can’t do any of our freelance jobs because they all involve being with other people. For now, we’re just making work from home.
The videos of people in Italy starting a band from their windows cheered me up. In terms of music, I’ve been listening to ‘Touch me’ by DJ Rui da Silva and ‘Don’t let go’ by En Vogue. These photos are probably our worst outfits. I like to wear tracksuit bottoms when I work from home.
I also signed up to help with Queercare, getting LGBTQ+ people food from the shop or cooking for local queer people who can’t leave the house. There’s a Google Doc where you can sign up.
Alice Potts (sustainable innovator)
I have been in Greece for the last two months and finally came back to the UK yesterday. I did 10 days of self-isolation in Athens, and will do a further 14 days here. In Greece, everyone is staying home and supporting each other online. I think the only way I can help others right now is to urge the government to implement a lockdown and beg people to see the urgency of the situation. We should all stay home and stay safe. My brother is a paramedic and is undergoing huge stress, along with the rest of the NHS. I am hoping to volunteer after quarantine.
I’m hoping this pandemic will allow sustainable and biofabricated fashion to grow. With no factories working on fast fashion, we can use this time to change our attitudes to what we consume.
The ‘coronasutra’ meme makes me laugh. I’ve been in love with the song ‘I need’ by Maverick Sabre but, after being in self-isolation for 10 days, nothing will make you smile more than the Spice Girls.