What Milan Fashion Did for Anna

by Christina Passariello, The Wall Street Journal

Italy, home of fashion powerhouses Gucci, Prada and Giorgio Armani, thinks it has been snubbed by one of the fashion world’s most powerful players: Anna Wintour.

Designers in Milan face a chaotic crunch as they scramble to fit 88 runway shows into about 70 hours over six days to accommodate the Vogue editor-in-chief’s plans to stay just four days in Milan instead of a full week.

Organizers have reshuffled the schedule three times in the past two months as word of Ms. Wintour’s expected travel plans spread through the historic fashion capital.

Designers will do whatever it takes to get Ms. Wintour to attend their shows. Her endorsement of a collection not only can lead to a place in Vogue photo shoots, but also tilts the odds that clothing will be worn by celebrities and picked up by retailers. Often, shows don’t start until she slides into her front-row seat.

“It’s always important that Anna comes to your show,” says Marco Bizzarri, chief executive of Italian fashion house Bottega Veneta, a unit of France’s PPR SA.

In the past, Milan fashion week, which started Wednesday and with big names starting Thursday, has run a week or more. Exactly how long Ms. Wintour has stayed in Milan in previous years, and why she isn’t staying longer this time, aren’t clear. Fashion industry executives regularly spend more than a month on the road attending runway shows, starting with the New York shows in early February, then London and Milan, ending in Paris where the shows wrap up the second week in March. Fashion weeks in Paris and New York usually run a full week or more.

Asked about her plans at a fashion show in London this week, Ms. Wintour said she was “going to Italy to cover all the shows that I normally cover. I’m really looking forward to going to Italy as always.”

She declined to comment on Milan’s calendar changes. A Vogue spokesman said, in an email, “Anna Wintour’s dates to attend the fall 2010 European collections are as they always are.”

Mario Boselli, head of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, the federation of Italian fashion houses, circulated the first draft fashion show schedule in mid-January, with 78 labels showing over a full week.

Soon, though, he was bombarded with requests for changes, after word spread that Ms. Wintour would be in town for what was at first thought to be just three days. Under pressure from labels like Gucci and Giorgio Armani, Mr. Boselli says he reluctantly agreed to squeeze the major houses into the three days starting Friday. (Ms. Wintour is now expected to stay for four days.)

“One woman can stay as many days as she wants, but don’t terrorize us by saying she’ll only stay three days,” says Mr. Boselli. “Otherwise it’s better to stay home.”

On Feb. 4, Mr. Boselli called the fashion houses to an emergency meeting. Fendi agreed to give up what had originally been a plum Saturday spot and show on Thursday, provided another house joined it. Prada volunteered.

The final schedule, stretched to four main days, wasn’t published until Feb. 8, less than three weeks before the event’s start. On the busiest day, Friday, 18 fashion shows are scheduled over 12 hours, compared with only 12 shows on the busiest day in Paris.

A few new designers showed Wednesday and some others are waiting until Monday, but most of the international press and buyers are staying only as long as Ms. Wintour does.

“Instead of Milan Fashion Week, they could call it Milan Fashion Long Weekend,” says Lavinia Biagiotti, vice president of Laura Biagiotti, one of a few houses that will show on Monday, when Ms. Wintour will have left town. During the busy four days, Ms. Biagiotti says, “it won’t be easy for anyone to work, with models running from one show to the next and the traffic jams.”

That schedule had others grumbling, too. Michael Burke, chief executive of the Fendi label, worried that Milan would repeat what he recalls as the “pandemonium” of Milan fashion week last September, when most prominent shows were crunched into three days to work around the Yom Kippur holiday.

“The buyers were very unhappy, the press was miserable—mannequins, makeup artists and hairdressers were all miserable,” Mr. Burke says.

—Beth Schepens in London contributed to this article.

Write to Christina Passariello at christina.passariello@wsj.com

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