Bankruptcy Fears Stalk Milan Fashion Week

MILAN ~ Leading Italian fashion houses put a brave, even chipper face on their Milan shows this season, despite being hard hit by the global economic downturn and the specter of bankruptcy hanging over Gianfranco Ferre and Just Cavalli.

Normally reserved for VIP fashionistas, Ferre’s front row on Friday included three government-appointed special administrators for its owner IT Holding as it faces bankruptcy proceedings.

Aimed at protecting a company and its creditors until a viable recovery plan is adopted, the procedure was initially applied only to IT Holding’s main subsidiary Ittierre.

If IT Holding does go under, it will drag down not only Gianfranco Ferre but also Just Cavalli, Roberto Cavalli’s lower-priced youth-oriented line, as well as Galliano, Versace Sport and Malo, designer labels run by Ittierre under licence and also facing an uncertain future.

The gathering financial crisis took its toll just two days before the start of Milan Fashion Week when Just Cavalli cancelled its show after half of the collection failed to materialize due to lack of funds.

Showing he is not a quitter, Roberto Cavalli staged a successful show of his top line, which he still controls 100 percent, with a sexy collection featuring full-length zippered boots and lots of see-through appeal.

“It’s not a time for romance,” the Florentine couturier told reporters. “You have to be aggressive to win,” he said, adding that he had “declared war on the (financial) crisis.”

We have “the duty to be optimistic,” said Giorgio Armani, stressing that the fashion world had been “too euphoric” in recent years, “spending outrageously to get (magazine) covers.”

“You should realize that lots of stores are selling 25 to 40 percent less, that lots of factories are closing,” said Armani, who described his look this season as one for “gritty go-getters.”

Milan Fashion Week was indisputably alive with creativity and craftsmanship, but buyers stayed away in droves, with some major fashion houses straining to fill their shows.

And smaller fashion houses simply did not attend this season, which saw a shortfall of about a dozen shows.

The overall situation for the fashion sector is no more reassuring: Michele Tronconi, president of Italy’s Textile and Fashion Federation, said there was an “urgent and dire need” for government aid such as that enjoyed by the auto sector.

In Prato, in the Tuscan heartland of the Italian textile industry, some 8,000 people staged a protest on Saturday to defend their jobs and call for government help.

The government of conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who himself hails from Milan, last week promised to unveil some initial support measures in mid-March.

In 2008, Italy’s some 60,000 textile and fashion enterprises, employing more than half a million people, suffered a 3-percent drop in turnover to 53 billion euros (US$67 billion), according to figures published last week.

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