If you thought working from a one-bedroom apartment and cooking your own meals was a hardship, Leaf Greener’s experience with the coronavirus pandemic might change your mind. Until today, the fashion consultant and journalist hadn’t been home since mid-January, when she left Shanghai for Europe to attend the marathon of menswear, couture, and ready-to-wear shows. She left Paris in early March to spend a few weeks with her boyfriend in Hong Kong, but couldn’t stay any longer due to immigration policies. So she headed home to Shanghai, excited to reconnect with her friends; the city has cautiously lifted its quarantine and reopened many of its businesses. But upon arriving at the city’s Pudong International Airport, Greener was told she actually couldn’t go to her apartment. Instead, she was escorted to a “quarantine center” in the Xuhui District. In late March, the country instituted a new policy that all international travelers—including residents and those coming from special administrative regions, like Hong Kong and Macao—had to spend two weeks in an isolation center. “It was a big surprise,” Greener said on a call last week, speaking from her quarantine room.
The rules were strict: Temperature checks throughout the day, locked windows, and no way to leave the room, even just to take a walk. On Instagram, Greener posted colorful updates and selfies dressed in her boldest, camp-iest outfits, often with the hashtag #QuarantineCamp (get it?). At the time of our call, she still had seven days to go, and spent much of her time researching what fashion can learn from this crisis. “I really think this virus is telling us to stop, and to rethink what we’re doing,” she says. Read on for more about Greener’s experience below.
Where are you right now, exactly?
This center is in something a bit like a motel—they aren’t using luxury hotels for the isolation centers. When you land at the Pudong airport, they ask you where you live, because in Shanghai we have different districts, so they’ll send you to the camp closest to your home. I’m in the Xuhui District.
When did you find out you had to go to a quarantine center? Did you have advance notice?
[laughs] It was a surprise… I found out when I landed at the airport in Shanghai. I was in Hong Kong for three weeks, I went there straight from Paris. [While I was in Hong Kong] on the 28th of March, China changed its travel policy. Anyone coming into China from overseas, no matter where they were coming from—including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao—everyone would have to stay in the quarantine center.
I heard this news and immediately called the immigration office. The lady who picked up the phone told me that if I was just coming from Hong Kong, I actually wouldn’t need to stay at the quarantine center. But at the airport, the police told me this wasn’t true—I would have to stay at the quarantine center for 14 days, and that was a big surprise. I’ve been away from home since January 14, when I went to Paris for menswear and haute couture and stayed for womenswear. Everything for me has just been one surprise after another.
Could you have stayed in Hong Kong longer, to avoid the quarantine center?
Mainland Chinese residents aren’t allowed to stay in Hong Kong for more than seven days. That’s the immigration policy. But I was so lucky, because I left Paris the day before President Macron shut down the city, and I got to Hong Kong right before they [instituted] a new policy that banned anyone traveling from Paris or Milan. If I had gone to Hong Kong one day after that, I wouldn’t have even been allowed to enter. So I was lucky to get there when I did. My boyfriend lives in Hong Kong and hired a lawyer to help me stay two extra weeks, but after that, the immigration office wouldn’t let me stay any longer, so unfortunately I had to go back to Shanghai.
My boyfriend is French, and the difficult thing is that he can’t come visit me in China, because they banned all foreigner visas, and of course I can’t go back to see him, because the Hong Kong government hasn’t opened the border to mainland Chinese yet. So that’s why I wanted to stay as long as I could, because we don’t know when we’re going to see each other again.
What is it like in Shanghai right now, since the city has started to reopen?
It won’t feel “normal” in Shanghai until the vaccine is ready. Shanghai is getting back to a “new normal.” But I haven’t seen the city yet—I was transferred here directly from the airport. My friends have been back at work and are very busy already. I think they started going back to work in February. Most places are open, like the museums and galleries, but a lot of them are by appointment only. They’re still being extremely careful, and you have to show your “health code” on WeChat. We have a code system to show that you’re healthy—there are three different colors—and you have to show it at the door so they’ll let you in. They’re also doing body temperature checks at the door.
China was locked down for two months, and it was very difficult because it was during the most important holiday season, Chinese New Year. I feel really happy about the city being [open] right now, but they’re still very conscious about social distancing. It isn’t like it was before.
How are you passing the time stuck in the same room for 14 days?
[laughs] Well, I try to dance, but you can’t really do a big move… So I just do a little bit, and some body stretching. I love dancing. Every day I wake up quite early because at 8:00am, the nurse comes to check your body temperature, and at 1:00pm, you have to report your own temperature with the doctor via WeChat. I’m forcing myself to dress up, actually. I don’t do that when I’m at home—I usually just wear pjs—but I feel like we need something to cheer ourselves up, and that’s why I’m so passionate about fashion. It’s why I’m doing this quarantine “camp” style, and I’m actually in a camp!
I read a lot, especially nerdy material, like the Lancet Journal… I love reading about natural science, or medical reports—I love it. I’m doing a bit of work as well. Right now I’m focusing on my consulting work, which I can do in one place [as opposed to traveling] and do my research remotely. And every day, I clean the entire room. This center doesn’t have a cleaning service, we have to do everything ourselves. Cleaning is like meditation for me. I can think about work, and it feels like a bit of exercise… And then the next day, I do it all again.
How are you staying upbeat and positive? I’m sure other people aren’t coping as well as you are.
We have to be positive. I really don’t feel bad for myself—I actually feel really lucky about the situation, because I’m back home in China, and soon I’ll be able to see my friends. I think the first thing I’ll do when I’m back in my apartment is go eat at my favorite restaurants—I miss the food so much! And I want to hug my friends, but I don’t know if I’m allowed to yet… What makes me sad is that I can’t see my friends in New York, London, Paris, but we talk every day.
I’m sure I won’t be traveling anywhere until [at least] December. My lifestyle is definitely changing, and of course I love fashion shows, but now I feel like I have [the opportunity] to do other things. I want to read everything on my bookshelf, and I want to start painting again, and now is the time.
As someone who attends fashion week almost every season—ready-to-wear, couture, menswear—what is it going to be like to miss the shows this summer, and potentially in the fall?
I really don’t think we’ll have another fashion week this year... I think we need to rethink how we can do things better [with the shows], how we can use technology to do less damage to the planet. There’s too many fashion weeks, too many shows, too many brands. Everything happens for a reason, so I feel like the future of fashion week will have [smaller] more selective schedules and will use more technology, like virtual reality.
I also think there will be a new style. This virus will be with us for a while, until we have a vaccine. How will fashion designers create collections that relate to our current situation? We have to think about how to protect ourselves now. I’ve been doing research on what kinds of fabrics are actually good to wear, and [less likely] to transmit the virus. Natural materials like wool and cotton are less [susceptible to carrying] the virus, because the virus loves water, and natural fibers absorb it. The virus on those clothes will die after a few hours. But on smooth materials like PVC and nylon, the virus stayed [on the surface] for days. Those fabrics aren’t safe for the environment anyways, so I really think this virus is telling us something. It’s telling us to stop, to rethink what we’re doing. Our creativity is always there, and fashion can always find a way. We’re in a new century, and this could start a new lifestyle, a new way of thinking. I think it could be good.
Originally Appeared on Vogue