By  on February 21, 2008

MILAN — "Fashion reunites all the big flows of capital of organized crime: cocaine, transportation and distribution," said Roberto Saviano, author of the critically acclaimed bestseller "Gomorrah," about the influence of the Neapolitan Mafia, or Camorra, throughout Italian society.

"To my mind, fashion is one of the most infiltrated markets of the criminal underworld," Saviano added, slouched on a gray sofa in the headquarters of his publisher, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.

In his book, the author describes in detail the interaction between fashion and the Camorra via illegal workshops and factories, how fashion is also a vehicle for money laundering, the industry's ties with Chinese textile suppliers and the lightning speed at which the region's workshops can turn out perfectly crafted pieces — but at the cost to workers of long hours and underpaid shifts. It tells of auctions for contracts where the winning formula for manufacturers seeking to produce for luxury brands is highest quantity-lowest price-shortest time frame.

But while Saviano names top Camorra bosses in the book, he doesn't cite or criticize individual fashion companies in order to avoid lawsuits, he said.

Giuseppe Bottillo, commanding officer of the Guardia di Finanza di Napoli, or fiscal police, told WWD the main issue is to keep manufacturers from operating illegally.

"During our controls, we found small manufacturers that hired their workers illegally violating labor laws and safety standards," said Bottillo. "When this happens, they close them down, but it's harder to prove ties with the Camorra."

Fashion's attraction to manufacturing in the Naples region stems from the area's long-standing sartorial traditions, said Bottillo. Lately, though, many factories have been forced to cut corners — including in their labor standards — due to cutthroat competition from the Far East.

In the book, Saviano dedicates the second chapter, titled "Angelina Jolie," to fashion. The chapter heading references the fact that the actress donned a Dolce & Gabbana (Saviano doesn't cite the brand, but a quick bit of research does the trick) cream satin pantsuit to the 2001 Oscars, an outfit he alleges was made by his friend Pasquale in a Camorra-controlled sweatshop in Secondigliano in Naples.

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