OF THOSE TO WHOM MUCH IS GIVEN
Shrugging off their own profound challenges, many luxury businesses, brands and artisans have come to the aid of those in need during the Covid-19 crisis.
Few market sectors have been as hard hit by the Covid-19 crisis as luxury. Countries renowned for their fashion, design and craft savoir faire — including Britain, France and Italy — have been among the nations most savagely struck by the novel coronavirus, which has affected the production and consumption of luxury goods. The drastic reduction in sales to China, which in 2019 was responsible for more than 40 per cent of the €280 billion per annum spent on luxury goods globally, has also taken a heavy toll. In an atmosphere of intense economic uncertainty, consumers have cut spending, especially on indulgences and items that perhaps seem less necessary during lockdown — new outfits, for instance. For the fortnight to 4 April this year, the British Retail Consortium reported a 27 per cent drop in sales year-on-year. Retail sales in France fell 24 per cent from February to March. For the same period, the United States saw a $46.2bn decrease in overall consumption, with clothing purchases down by a staggering 50.5 per cent. Spending at luxury hotels and fine-dining restaurants, as one might imagine, has plummeted. Yet despite facing acute commercial hardship, fashion and luxury businesses of all sizes have played their part in the fight against the pandemic and come to the aid of those suffering during this crisis. In March, the British shirtmaker Emma Willis of Jermyn Street had seen orders dwindling and was in the process of reluctantly furloughing staff and shutting up shop to comply with social distancing requirements. It was as things were winding down that word came — via the firm’s bespoke cutter Samantha Wakely’s mother, a National Health Service vascular scientist — of shortages in the supply of surgical scrubs to British hospitals. In response, Willis’s team set to work sewing much-needed garments for frontline staff in the critical care wards at Gloucestershire Royal and Cheltenham hospitals. “They needed scrubs as fast as possible, so we used the fine Swiss cotton we have in abundance, in an array of colours, as any colour was more than welcome,” Willis said. “Everyone we have making the scrubs is furloughed, so they need not be working, but they are donating their time to support the NHS. The feedback and thanks we are getting is wonderful, and very rewarding and moving for all the production team.” Willis noted that hospital workers have said the fine Alumo cotton apparel makes their travails a little easier to bear. Fellow British shirtmakers Turnbull & Asser were in the midst of producing 6,000 sets of scrubs. “When news broke of the shortage of protective equipment within the health service, there was an overwhelming appetite to do something to further the cause,” the company’s managing director, Jonathan Baker, said. “We felt duty-bound to step up and do what we could for our frontline workers.” In keeping with efforts to flatten the curve, Turnbull & Asser had closed its British production facilities. “Thankfully, our supply chain director is a well-connected man,” Baker says. “He made a few calls and, within days, secured the correct fabrics, rallied a team of machinists, and established a supply line directly to the NHS. His efforts ensured that whatever we made, it was not only made correctly but ended up in the hands of those who need it most.”
Many other British sartorial stalwarts have answered the call to arms. Savile Row’s Huntsman and Cad & The Dandy have joined forces in a collaborative effort to sew scrubs for the NHS; Burberry have retooled their Yorkshire trenchcoat factory to make gowns and masks; New & Lingwood are donating 10 per cent of profits to Age UK, a leading British charity for the elderly and vulnerable; and Anderson & Sheppard are giving 10 per cent of all online sales to Compliments of the House, a London food redistribution charity helping deliver groceries to people in need.
With his normally sought-after tables empty during the lockdown, the London hospitality entrepreneur Richard Caring has devoted the resources of his restaurant empire to feeding NHS staff, the underprivileged and isolated elderly people across the U.K. capital. Chefs at Caring’s renowned restaurants — including The Ivy, Scott’s, Sexy Fish and 34 Mayfair, plus the seminal members’ club Annabel’s — have been cooking up a storm for staff at St. Thomas’ and St. Mary’s hospitals, the Chelsea & Westminster, Great Ormond Street, and West Middlesex University Hospital. Caring has also partnered with the food redistribution charity the Felix Project to provide sustenance to the elderly and those battling the economic effects of this disaster. While U.K. hotels are closed to the public, numerous five-star properties — including Claridge’s — are graciously accommodating healthcare heroes in style. Claridge’s and its Maybourne Hotel Group siblings, The Connaught and The Berkeley, are also serving hundreds of meals each day to workers in the NHS. Maybourne boss Paddy McKillen Sr. said: “We are honoured to help and support the dedicated NHS workers at this critical time. We are forever in their debt.”
Giorgio Armani was one of the first of Italy’s fashion giants to react as the crisis unfolded, moving his February shows behind closed doors, donating €2 million to hospitals in Milan, Rome, Bergamo, Piacenza and Versilia, and converting his Italian factories to focus solely on the production of single-use medical overalls. He also took out 60 full-page ads in Italian newspapers, paying tribute to the country’s valiant healthcare workers.
The Zegna family and upper management of Ermenegildo Zegna have made a personal donation of €3m to support medical efforts in Italy, and in mid April reopened facilities in Italy and Switzerland, where the brand’s workers were producing 280,000 protective hospital suits. The company also gave a $700,000 contribution towards efforts in China. Gildo Zegna, the Chief Executive, said: “At Zegna we believe our actions today will shape our tomorrow. The pandemic we are all facing is a call for people around the world to take action. Each of us must do our part, in every way possible, to stop this global emergency.”
The owners of Tod’s, Hogan, Fay, and Roger Vivier, the Della Valle family, have donated €5m to a fund, Sempre con Voi (Always With You), that supports the families of healthcare workers who have died while treating those suffering from Covid-19. “Their selflessness and courage will forever be an example to all of us,” the Della Valles said in a statement. The Prada proprietors, Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli, have donated six full intensive care and resuscitation units to Milanese hospitals, and Prada’s factory in Perugia committed to making 80,000 medical overalls and 110,000 masks. Lardini also embarked on the manufacture of 60,000 protective masks, which were to be used in the brand’s home base of Filottrano and neighbouring areas. Leonardo Del Vecchio, the founder and chairman of the eyewear behemoth Luxottica (the makers of Ray-Ban and Persol, among countless others), and Remo Ruffini of Moncler have each given €10m towards the construction of a new hospital, housing hundreds of intensive care units, in the Fiera Milano exhibition centre. Meanwhile, Dolce & Gabbana are funding research into the novel coronavirus at Humanitas University in Milan. “Supporting scientific research is a moral duty for us; we hope that our contribution can help resolve this dramatic problem,” the design duo said. Ferrari have announced a host of initiatives to support the fight against Covid-19. They are producing respirator valves and fittings for protective masks in the prototyping lab of their Maranello factory, and have created a €2m fund to supply virus test kits, emergency vehicles, tablets and other computer equipment to provide tele-medicine services and help local schools facilitate remote learning, as well as supplying food for families in the region. The company’s chairman, C.E.O. and board of directors have pledged their salaries from April to the end of 2020 towards these efforts. Jaguar and Land Rover have supplied several hundred vehicles for use by Red Cross societies and other frontline services in Australia, Spain, South Africa, Brazil, Italy, Belgium, Russia, Germany and the Netherlands. The sibling automakers’ U.K. facilities have also begun producing NHS-approved protective visors, with a goal of turning out 5,000 per week. Elon Musk, the founder of the electric carmaker Tesla, says the company has sent 1,000 ventilators to U.S. hospitals and is close to perfecting a proprietary ventilator made using technology from the marque’s Model 3.
In the early days of the outbreak, the French luxury leviathan LVMH gave $2.2m to the Chinese Red Cross and shipped medical supplies to treatment centres in Wuhan. As the virus spread to Europe, the group repurposed its fragrance and cosmetics factories to manufacture vast quantities of hand sanitiser (more than 60 tons of gel per week), which LVMH is providing gratis to French health authorities. The 20,000 units of hand sanitiser made daily in the Italian factories of LVMH-owned Bvlgari are being distributed to hospitals in Italy, Switzerland the U.K.. “I believe that a company is not only about maximising profits at any cost but also about behaving as a responsible citizen within its community, from daily ethical sourcing and sustainability initiatives to immediate reaction to contribute to natural disaster relief,” Jean-Christophe Babin, Bvlgari’s Chief Executive, said. LVMH’s core brand, Louis Vuitton, and other maisons are producing gowns for use by frontline medical staff at Paris hospitals, but to better meet demand, LVMH also funded and arranged the importation of 40m face masks from China and purchased 80,000 gowns and 65,000 pairs of gloves for health workers in France. The group was set to deliver 261 lifesaving respirators to French hospitals by the end of April. Their rival luxury giant Kering was supplying the French health service with three million surgical masks sourced from China, and manufacturing additional supplies in ateliers including the the Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent workshops. Gucci, Kering’s flagship brand, began producing hundreds of thousands of masks and overalls for Italian health workers in March. Kering and their constituent brands have also donated significant sums to Italy’s four major foundation hospitals in Lombardy, Veneto, Tuscany and Lazio, supported the Institut Pasteur’s coronavirus research efforts, and given generously to the Hubei Red Cross Foundation in China. Hermès have committed to donating €20m to Parisian hospitals and were producing copious amounts of hand sanitiser at their fragrance factories. The 183-year-old, family controlled company was foregoing government subsidies and will be fully funding the continued paid employment of its 15,500 personnel, even though production is halted for the time being.
Similarly, Chanel have guaranteed they will maintain the employment of their 8,500 staff on full pay throughout the lockdown. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, the brand has supported more than 80 non-profit organisations providing crisis relief in France, Italy, the U.K., China, South Korea and the US. In their homeland of France, where Chanel were producing masks and gowns at their ateliers, they have pledged €1.2m to the hospital system. In the U.S., Chanel have allocated $2m in funding to support patients and workers in hospitals, address the needs of those suffering due to the economic downturn, and help women and girls affected by the pandemic. For the South African entrepreneur Johann Rupert, charity begins at home — and one writes one’s own cheques. The chairman of Richemont (the owner of leading luxury brands including Jaeger-LeCoultre, Cartier, Montblanc, Piaget, Dunhill, A. Lange & Söhne, IWC, and Panerai, among others) has admirably contributed one billion rand — about $53m — from his personal fortune to help sustain South African businesses assailed by the human and economic effects of the crisis.
Stateside, as is often the case, Ralph Lauren leads the way. In March, the American style legend announced a $10m donation to Covid-19 crisis relief. Funds were to go towards a variety of initiatives, including grants aiding individuals around the world beset by financial or medical challenges as a result of the virus; backing for the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund; cancer care; and support for struggling fashion companies. Additionally, the brand were manufacturing 250,000 masks and 25,000 gowns for healthcare professionals. “At the heart of our company, there has always been a spirit of togetherness that inspires our creativity, our confidence and most importantly our support for one another,” Lauren said when announcing the multimillion-dollar commitment. “In the past weeks and months, that spirit has never wavered. We believe that no matter who you are or where you are from, we are all connected. That is why we are taking significant action to help our teams and communities through this crisis.”
One million of Lauren’s dollars will be used to seed A Common Thread, a fund set up by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and Vogue to assist American fashion labels at risk of folding during the crisis. Sums of between $25,000 and $75,000 will be granted to struggling designers in an attempt to help keep them afloat. “We’re not naïve about this,” Vogue’s Anna Wintour told The New York Times. “We know we can’t help everybody. And maybe some of the people we do help won’t make it. But we wanted to show there is a support system in fashion. That there is a future.” Tom Ford, the CFDA chairman, is donating 10 per cent of all his brand’s online sales to the cause. The American ‘Ivy Style’ outfitters Brooks Brothers have converted their factories in New York, North Carolina and Massachusetts from sewing shirts, ties and suits to producing gowns and masks — 150,000 of the latter each day. New-school preppy style-mongers Rowing Blazers, meanwhile, are making sustainable masks from offcuts of their distinctive jackets and rugby jerseys. One mask is being donated to Food Bank (which distributes meals to the vulnerable) for every piece sold, and 10 per cent of all the company’s sales during this time are being donated to the anti-poverty non-profit organisation Direct Relief. Initially shut down to comply with shelter-in-place measures, one of New York’s most luxurious hotels, the Four Seasons, has reopened specifically to provide free rooms to medical personnel from nearby hospitals such as Mount Sinai, NYU Langone, Bellevue and Weill Cornell Medical Center. In Las Vegas, MGM Resorts donated enough food to provide 250,000 meals to community members in need. Las Vegas Sands Corp. has donated two million medical masks and 20,000 protective suits to healthcare workers operating in New York and Nevada, while restaurants at the affiliated Marina Bay Sands in Singapore donated 15,000kg of food — much of it from gourmet, celebrity-chef restaurants — to charity ahead of the property’s closure during the city’s lockdown. The top chef José Andrés, a noted culinary philanthropist long before the pandemic, has provided meals to quarantined cruise-ship passengers and has transformed eight of his U.S. restaurants — many boasting Michelin stars — into community kitchens, feeding those going hungry during the crisis. “The coronavirus pandemic threatens to create both a public health and economic catastrophe. But we cannot afford to ignore the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding out of sight,” Andrés wrote in a New York Times opinion piece. “Our fate as a nation depends on how we feed our most vulnerable citizens through this crisis,” he added, prioritising frontline workers, the elderly, and the poverty stricken, especially children. The examples go on and on, so you’ll forgive us if we’ve omitted to mention any notable instances of coronavirus-related generosity. Doubtless we have. Suffice to say, it is both heartening and inspiring to see so many businesses and individuals famed for purveying luxuries stepping up — and in many cases, making significant sacrifices — to provide the affected, afflicted and the less fortunate with necessities during these trying times.