Prada on Friday became the first major luxury house to host a show in China this year, navigating strict COVID curbs to send models down a catwalk in a historic Beijing mansion hotel, a move aimed at underscoring its commitment to the market.
Livestreamed on multiple online platforms including Weibo, more than 400 celebrities and customers attended the event held by the Italian group in the Prince Jun’s Mansion Hotel, where it showcased its men and women's fall and winter collections.
Shows in Chinese cities by global luxury giants, from Prada to LVMH's Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, used to be a familiar sight and continued even in 2020 and 2021 after China curbed the spread of the virus relatively quickly thanks to tough border curbs.
But much has changed in 2022 with China's continued insistence on a "dynamic zero COVID" policy that uses harsh measures to cut any virus transmission chain, even as the rest of the world opens up in the face of infectious Omicron variants.
Since the start of the year, several cities including China's commercial capital of Shanghai have undergone draconian lockdowns and much of the country's population is now required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing. These measures have bred uncertainty that has hit both the economy and consumer confidence.
In order to attend Prada's event, guests had to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours and masks were mandatory for all attendees indoors except the models stomping along the catwalk.
Those flying in from other Chinese cities also had to comply with Beijing's testing requirements for domestic travellers.
"[This event] is a key statement for the brand, especially in this moment where first mover advantage will be seen as more powerful and significant than before," said Kim Leitzes, APAC managing director of data provider Launchmetrics.
Prada declined requests to be interviewed for this story.
The brand has seen significant improvement in its China business in recent years, reducing its reliance on wholesale and driving more sales through its own stores and website, where items are more likely to be sold at full price.
It has also attracted a new generation of Chinese consumers with the appointment of superstar Cai Xukun as a celebrity ambassador in 2019.
"I'm very excited to be here tonight," said one of the Friday show attendees, Chen Zaozao, who works at an auction house in Beijing. "I used to have many opportunities to attend fashion events before but it has become rare these days."