Milan's fashionistas are reeling from the recession

At Milan's fashion week, the festivities are more subdued this year, with big names like Fendi bowing out and other fashion houses cutting costs.

Antonio Calanni/AP
A model wears a creation part of the Prada Spring/Summer 2010 fashion collection, presented in Milan, Italy, on Thursday.

MILAN, ITALY – Even Milan fashion week, where frivolous fashions are launched and fortunes and reputations made, isn't immune to the effects of the global recession.

Though still a “must” event for the luxury-addicted around the world, the marketing push that began yesterday was definitely missing something. A number of design houses, including superstars Fendi and Dolce & Gabbana, chose not to attend the event – citing disagreements on the schedule.

And there is less champagne and caviar to go around this year, as Italy's ready-to-wear industry faces a sharp slump in sales according to a report published last week by fashion trade Federation “Sistema Moda Italia.”

Fashion reporters say that for the first time they're being charged to attend events, to use press rooms, and for transportation offered by sponsors.

“This is just so decadent” says Nunzia Garoffolo, who runs a fashion blog. “I understand everybody needs saving money, but you cannot run a fashion week in a shabby way. That just makes no sense. I'm not just talking about the reporters' fees, this event lacks the luxury image it deserves”.

But to be honest, Milan's preeminence as a fashion capital has been in decline for some time.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Italy's big three (Versace, Valentino, and Armani) reigned over the industry, while super-models like Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Carla Bruni were bigger than Hollywood stars. Back then Milan meant fashion and fashion meant Milan.

But in the past decade the city has been slowly loosing ground to London, Paris, and New York. So, the golden era is gone, though Milan is still one of the world's major runaways.

The Italian fashion industry's biggest fear is that Milan's fashion week might become completely eclipsed by New York and London.

“Oh dear.” Garoffolo shakes her head. “Rather than worrying in vain, we should learn from London: I propose we send young managers to work at least a year abroad... this will improve efficiency.”

But when people in the fashion industry start muttering about efficiency, that's as much of a sign of trouble as anything.

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