There was a moment of confusion at Spring Street Studios, the hub of New York Fashion Week, on Monday morning.
Designers usually close out runway shows with a wave and a bow, after the final march of their models. But that didn’t happen at the Luooif Studio show. The music ended and house lights dimmed, and then a 23-year-old stylist emerged on the runway cradling a laptop in his hands. He turned the screen toward the audience, displaying photos of two young Chinese designers.
One was Lena Luo, a founder of Luooif Studio; the other was her collaborator, Ekcee Chan, who designs the footwear. Both were supposed to be there in person — it would have been their first time at New York Fashion Week.
But they had been banned from visiting the United States amid concerns over the deadly spread of coronavirus.
“We have to stay in China,” Ms. Luo, 29, said by phone from her family’s home in Guangdong Province, a few hours after the show. “I can’t be there this time.”
On Jan. 31, the United States government announced that most foreign nationals who had recently spent time in China would be denied entry to the United States.
Ms. Luo was scheduled to arrive in New York on Feb. 4, about a week before her runway show. Two large boxes containing her fall 2020 collection were being held by United States customs officials. It didn’t look as if the shipment would be released in time for the show at 9 a.m. on Feb. 10.
Ms. Luo, who did stints as an assistant in the studios of Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood, is a graduate of Central Saint Martins and, with a partner, founded Luooif Studio in 2015. Last week, canceling her fashion week debut crossed her mind, she said, but she worried about letting down her team, who had put “patience and passion” into the collection.
“If I cancel, our team would be so lost,” she said.
Instead she tried to postpone the show, to allow more time for the shipment to make it through customs. Her New York representatives — the production company Prjct 428, which helps promote young Asian designers — asked the organizers of New York Fashion Week to reschedule. But the only available slots weren’t viable.
As Prjct 428 tried to figure out how to put on a show without the new collection, panic over coronavirus was spreading. On Feb. 3, IMG, the organizers of New York Fashion Week, sent an email to designers, asking if anyone on their teams had been to China in the last two weeks, or if anyone on their teams had experienced any “respiratory symptoms,” like coughing or difficulty breathing.
“Though we believe there is no reason for alarm,” the email read in part, “we are doing everything we can to limit risk on-site throughout this week’s event.”
Then, three days before the Luooif Studio show, the fall 2020 collection finally arrived. Prjct 428 rushed to bring on a stylist and cast models. At first, the company tried to patch Ms. Luo into castings through the app WeChat, but their connection was weak. Instead the team sent photos and videos every night for her approval.
In China, Ms. Luo was staying up late to see the footage, 11 hours ahead of her New York team. Missing casting was “honestly, a big upset,” she said.
But beyond that, fear was enveloping her country. Ms. Luo was confined to her parents’ home — she had been visiting them for the Chinese New Year when the virus broke out. She was unable to go to her office or even meet in person with her design team. She said she was scared.
“There are so many ways you can get the disease,” she said. “The only way we protect ourselves is away from people — that’s why we cannot go out.” As of Tuesday morning, the death toll in China had surpassed 1,000.
“It’s like being in jail, kind of,” Ms. Chan, 26, said over WeChat. “But we took a good risk.”
By that, she meant that the show went on.
The collection shown Monday morning was inspired by “the wild dad’s wardrobe,” the designers said — remixed versions of the suits, shirts and sweaters popular among dads in the 1980s. There were oversize silky-sheen printed tunics and fisherman sweaters, blazers with tulle sprouting like weeds from the sleeves, several velvet dresses and a necktie and shoulder pad or two.
There were hitches, of course. The designers wanted to be on video chat backstage, watching as the models had their hair and makeup done, but once again the connection in the gallery space wasn’t strong enough to produce clear images. Five hours after the show had ended, Ms. Luo had still not seen footage of the show. Ms. Chan, who had seen a few photos, said the styling choices weren’t exactly what she had envisioned.
And the work isn’t done. Now that the show is over, Prjct 428 is strategizing how to present it to conservative Chinese media, said Joan Kao, 25, a founder. When her company took over the duties of putting on the show, it prioritized diverse casting, hiring several gender-fluid and queer models to walk the runway.
“Seeing them bring the clothes to life was so beautiful,” Ms. Kao said. “But I haven’t been sleeping at all the past seven nights. None of us have.”