The Milan Fashion Week schedule is an impressive list of powerhouse labels from Armani, Prada, Fendi, Cavalli, Versace and Gucci. Italian luxury brands also appear impervious to the economic crisis thanks to demand from wealthy consumers in the Far East. So why is the Italian fashion establishment worried? The current crisis is one of new talent; the last great explosion of Italian designers was in the late 1970s, when Muccia Prada took over at Prada and Giorgio Armani, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana started their empires. Since then it's hard to think of a new name to add to the list.
Alarm bells have started to ring, the most obvious one being Tom Ford's decision to show in London rather than Milan or Paris; this in turn is attracting more American buyers to London. Paris is faced with a similar problem to Milan but they have brought in new designers to rejuvenate their famous marques, with Raf Simons at Dior and Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent Paris.
London Fashion Week positions itself as an incubator of new talent and has seen success stories like Christopher Kane, 2007 New Designer of the Year, and Erdem, winner of the Fashion Fringe award in 2005. Last year's Fashion Fringe winner Haizhen Wang is receiving practical support for the next four seasons and mentoring as and when he needs it. London is full of initiatives to help creative talent; Fashion Fringe, NEWGEN and Fashion Scout provide an important launch platform for new designers.
The UK also has the Duchess of Cambridge and, despite some fashion world snobbery, she can bring massive exposure for a designer. American fashion has Michelle Obama; Jason Wu being the most celebrated beneficiary of her patronage so far. The US also has programs to nurture new talent: Jason Wu was a finalist in the 2008 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and the CFDA has recently launched the Fashion Incubator which aims to support the next generation of fashion designers.
That leaves Milan Fashion Week where? There are new designers working in Italy, Donatella Versace worked with Christopher Kane on Versus and is now developing a team of emerging designers. Haizhen Wang worked for Max Mara but when it came to branching out with his own label he headed for London. The problem appears to be a lack of support: new talent usually gets pushed to the back of the schedule where it clashes with Paris Fashion Week. By that time the buyers, fashion editors, bloggers and top models have already left and are tweeting from their Eurostar train or are already in the French capital.
Last year Roberto Cavalli kicked up a fuss about being the only anchor label on the last day of the shows; this year the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, the body responsible for promoting Italian fashion, has shaken the schedule up a bit. Russian designer Sergei Grinko has moved up the rankings; whilst No.21, whose creative director Alessandro Dell'Acqua also heads up the design team at luxury knitwear label Les Copains, finds itself showing on the opening day. Another new label, Bee Queen, is also scheduled to open Milan Fashion Week but appears to be clashing with the Gucci show which is a shame. However, NUDE and Next Generation, both of which promote new talent, once again find themselves relegated to the final day which also happens to be the first day of Paris Fashion Week.
Image from Haizhen Wang's fall/winter 2013-14 collection. Photographer Kareem Abdul 'The Abstract Portrait'.