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COVID-19

High fashion in Italy faces “strange,” uncertain times

Kai Ryssdal and Sean McHenry Nov 3, 2020
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Models are seen backstage at the Drome fashion show during the Milan Women's Fashion Week on Sept. 26. Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
COVID-19

High fashion in Italy faces “strange,” uncertain times

Kai Ryssdal and Sean McHenry Nov 3, 2020
Heard on:
Models are seen backstage at the Drome fashion show during the Milan Women's Fashion Week on Sept. 26. Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
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With formal events postponed and people working from home across the globe, Italy’s high-fashion industry is in flux. The Italian government has added more restrictions on day-to-day life in response to a surge of COVID-19 cases, all of which spells trouble for the Italian artisans caught in the middle.

Raffaella Grosso runs an embroidery company in Milan, where she and her staff produce designs for fashion houses like Armani, Versace and Prada. Grosso spoke with “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal about how the pandemic has affected her business. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: I should tell people listening to this that you and I had an interview scheduled last week. We had some scheduling issues. It didn’t happen. But in a way, that’s good, because I think the interview we’re doing now, this week, with the new announcements in Italy and the virus situation in Europe, are quite a big change from the way things were last week.

Raffaella Grasso: Yes, they are changing very fast now, things are getting a little bit worse. And so everything is changing day by day. We are getting news from the government, taking new measures to try and stop this virus.

Ryssdal: It has been, I’m sure, difficult for your business the past seven, eight months now. What do you expect it’s going to be like from here to the end of the year, do you think?

Grasso: That’s a good question. That’s very hard to answer. We are facing a very strange moment now. Everybody’s still trying to understand how to proceed in the next month, if it’s a good idea to produce. And that’s a problem for us, because we are not direct sellers. And so we have to follow our clients and see what they do.

Ryssdal: How worried are you for the Italian fashion industry with not just this pandemic, but also globalization and what it’s meaning for what you do?

Grasso: We do hand embroidery, not machines, for all the big names of Italian fashion and some also foreigners’ ones. And this last year, there’s great competition with foreign competitors. Our prices, obviously, are higher. In this period, some of our customers came back because to go to our competitors is difficult now because they’re abroad. And we have faced a strange moment when everybody’s coming back and telling us, “Well, we want to do “made in Italy.” So we want to work with you more than before, but your prices are too high. So you have to reduce prices because we are used to [paying] less.” And they want to pay less even if we are Italian.

Ryssdal: A bigger question about Milan and northern Italy: What’s the mood? I mean, I don’t imagine you can go down now and have a cup of coffee or a pastry or something and talk to people, right?

Grasso: Well, last week, it was possible. You had to stop very early in the afternoon, but it was not so bad. Now it’s getting back to the worst period that we faced in February and March and April when we were completely closed, and that was the worst period. Now, it’s something that is in between. Obviously, it’s not safe, but it’s not so bad. But you feel that everybody, everything around you is feeling unsafe, is feeling scared, and so you are scared, too. That’s a bad sensation.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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