Cosmetics giant Coty’s machines for making face powder were repurposed in wartime Britain and used to grind chemicals for explosives. The brand also made foot powders, fuel tablets and camouflage creams for troops. Meanwhile, beauty production continued. Coty’s adverts stated: “The products will not deviate by one hair-breadth from the high standard of excellence which the name has always implied.”
Two years after founding Aquascutum (from the Latin “water” and “shield”), John Emary patented a waterproof wool and supplied water-resistant coats to officers in the Crimean War; 61 years later the company refined the design for first world war officers, giving rise to the original trench coat. Officers were told they could have a complimentary replacement if they found a leak – but a barrage of compliments followed.
Mitigation measures for the SARS pandemic of 2002-2004 in many ways foreshadowed those for Covid-19, with schools, factories and shops in Asia closed. The then three-year-old ecommerce site Alibaba found its niche, converting Asian consumers to online shopping. In 2003, Alibaba’s business grew 50 per cent; today, its platforms sell two- thirds of everything bought online in China.
During the first world war, Hardy Amies, who had been designing for House of Worth, was one of the high-end fashion designers called upon to design utility clothing – including a coat, suit, afternoon dress and suit dress. Amies served in the SOE (special operations executive), and had his army uniform tailored on Savile Row. After the war, he launched a Savile Row couturier and became dressmaker to the Queen.
The 2007/2008 financial crisis catalysed the rise of the sharing economy. In August 2008, Airbnb began as a site to facilitate casual leasing out of spare rooms but quickly evolved, in many cases, into a complete upending of the travel industry. Coronavirus might not be being kind to its fortunes, but at the end of 2019 the FT reported that the company may have been worth more than $40bn.