By  on October 3, 2011

MILAN — A threatened shake-up of the fashion show calendar is raising tensions on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s a potential clash that, if not resolved, could wreak havoc on the already lengthy, jam-packed runway season.

As reported, Italian designers are displeased with the plan of New York officials to start that city’s fashion week on Sept. 13 next year in order to avoid conflict with the Labor Day holiday in the U.S. The shift would put the shows essentially a week later than in recent years. The Italians contend the move is being forced on them by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and if Milan moves its dates later as a result, Italian designers won’t have enough time to satisfy production needs.

The Italians are regrouping to decide on their own dates.

The latest broadside in the calendar battle came from Condé Nast, which may go as far as skipping the Milan shows if its September dates next year conflict with New York or London. In a letter obtained by WWD and addressed to Mario Boselli, head of the Italian Chamber of Fashion, Condé Nast International chairman Jonathan Newhouse wrote that Vogue editors “like the schedule the way it is presently organized. We at Condé Nast do not want the schedule to be changed. We very much oppose moving the Milan shows earlier so that they overlap or conflict with the London fashion shows — or with the New York fashion shows or those of any market.”

Newhouse wrote that the editors of Vogue, including those of the American, Italian and French editions, will not attend the Milan shows if there is a conflict with New York or London. “They will not under any circumstances abandon the London or New York shows if the Milan shows are moved earlier,” he stated, voicing his belief that, “the best way to avoid having a problem is to maintain the schedule as it is now.”

The current schedule has New York opening the season, followed by London, Milan and Paris, with no overlapping dates.

Boselli said Monday that “if New York had not changed the dates unilaterally and without reason, there would never have been a problem.” Italian designers are regrouping to decide on the positioning of the Milan shows and a decision will be reached “well before the end of the month.”

Boselli added that Italian designers are showing a united front, and are evaluating what is best for them. “We wouldn’t have reconsidered the show dates, but since the equilibrium has been ruptured, we are reflecting and rethinking the situation. Already we thought we were compromising and since New York has decided to set its schedule without consulting us, we are thinking in terms of what is best for us.”

It is understood the Italian fashion body is evaluating three options: to move to July; to show before New York in September; or to leave things as they are, which could mean Milan and London would overlap. Several years ago, Prada chief executive officer Patrizio Bertelli was the first to suggest the Italians show both men’s and women’s in July — an idea that never found much support among editors and buyers.

The disagreement over the calendar can be traced back to 2008, when the governing fashion organizations of the four fashion capitals agreed to kick off the collections season on the second Thursday in February and September. Boselli claims the second Thursday rule was only for a three-year period, and thus expires this year, while the CFDA and the British Fashion Council maintain it was a permanent pact.

According to Boselli, in 2012, this timing — especially in September — would push Milan’s fashion week too late for production, or cause it to be “squeezed” in between London and Paris. “After three years, we should sit down and decide on the next three years, and we don’t understand why the CFDA has single-handedly set the New York show dates later in September next year,” he said.

On Monday, CFDA president Steven Kolb reiterated that the agreement between the four cities was “permanent. We can’t move the dates earlier in September as they would interfere with Labor Day. It is not what we agreed to and it would be unfair if Milan moved earlier. If Milan goes before New York, how will that work?” said Kolb, noting that the Italian city ideally wants to attract international editors, who would not travel to Europe twice in a month.

“New York and the CFDA have always been approaching dates in a global way, and we are open to ideas of partnership and collaboration,” added Kolb.

“Steven is correct — the dates agreement was understood to be permanent,” concurred Caroline Rush, ceo of the British Fashion Council. “London is unable to change its dates for September 2012 due to venue accessibility following the Olympic and Paralympic games in London next year.”

She added, “Camera Nazionale della Moda and Chambre Syndicale have announced dates for September 2012 that contravene the fashion week dates agreement of September 2008. We are in direct discussion with our counterparts and hope to resolve the matter over the next few weeks. We have a great deal of support from both international and domestic media and retailers in retaining the dates agreement.”

A meeting was held on Friday between the CFDA and the British Fashion Council, which Boselli was unable to attend.

Some Europeans suggest that Milan and Paris could end up standing together on the issue of dates. An industry source said, “Paris and Milan are strong fashion capitals, and the axis between the two continues to hold well.”

But asked about the show date controversy, Didier Grumbach, head of the Chambre Syndicale, indicated he was more in favor of compromise than confrontation — and that nothing can be changed next year anyway. One of Paris’ main concerns, he said, is that women’s ready-to-wear show weeks don’t move any earlier as then it gets too close to couture.

“When planning our schedules we have to factor in the time constraints of houses such as Jean Paul Gaultier or Givenchy that deliver couture, men’s and women’s shows with one designer,” he said. “In any case, these things can’t be improvised. We have our locations. To move dates on venues like the Grand Palais cannot be improvised. Those dates are decided months and months in advance. If [anyone wants to] move dates for 2013, why not, we have the time to talk about it, to arrange it.”

Another source said this latest clash with the American association echoes another one with Vogue U.S. editor in chief Anna Wintour, who was blamed by the Italian media in early 2010 for compressing Milan’s fashion week to a four-day event for a few seasons. Italian designers reconsidered the issue and in 2010 they extended the shows to run Sept. 22 to 28.

Boselli declined to comment on the Newhouse letter, but Kolb noted: “I think it speaks for itself.”

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