THE DATING GAMES
MOVING COLLECTIONS UP A WEEK WAS A PRESSURE COOKER FOR SOME, A WALK IN THE PARK FOR OTHERS.
Byline: Samantha Conti
MILAN — Just how important is a week?
The Old Testament says it took one to create the world, designer Stefano Gabbana argues that entire collections can be made — and destroyed — in one, and Vittorio Missoni believes an extra seven days can mean the difference between deliveries that are on time — or embarrassingly late.
Italy’s new show schedule — a week earlier than in past seasons — forced designers, manufacturers and textile mills to sketch, sew and spin in what many said was record time. The style jury is still out, however, about whether or not earlier shows are good for the industry.
“I had to work at the speed of light to finish this collection, and what am I getting in return?” said Gabbana. Ask Missoni, and he’ll answer: an extra week for orders, production and, most important, deliveries. “It’s all about giving better service to retailers,” he said.
Responding both to retailers’ increasing need for early deliveries and the drastic anticipation of the New York show schedule, Italian and French show organizers announced last year that the Milan and Paris shows were also moving forward.
Mario Boselli, a vice president of Italy’s National Chamber of Fashion and the owner of a high-end jersey mill, said Milan’s spring-summer shows, which run this year from Sept. 24 to Oct. 2, will continue to be held during the second half of September, while the fall-winter shows will take place during the second half of February.
“Designers have all the time they need to chose fabrics and design their collections. They cannot argue that one week is going to make a big difference,” Boselli said.
While all designers agree that having an extra week for post-show orders, production and delivery will help business, many said the season’s new schedule damaged the delicate creative process and created unnecessary stress.
“Fashion is, by its nature, ‘of the moment,’ which means every collection we show, from the beading to the shoes, has to be up-to-the-minute,” said Gabbana. “A runway collection evolves day after day, and can change drastically in a week’s time. How am I supposed to know in July what I’m showing at the end of September? In the end, we finished the collection, but at what cost? It’s not fair to make creative people work on what has become a very tight schedule.”
Gabbana added that the Dolce & Gabbana White Label collection, which represents 75 percent of the company’s overall sales, is already sold in July for delivery beginning in November.
“That collection is about ‘product,’ so it can be designed and sold earlier,” he pointed out. “The runway collection is about ‘fashion,’ which means we need as much time and flexibility as possible in creating it.”
Stress was also an issue at Gianfranco Ferre.
“This season was a difficult one for us, and it’s clear in the future that our August holiday, which we consider productive time away from the office, isn’t going to be the same,” said a company spokesman. “We got the job done — but with much less time — and much more stress.”
Genny said the cost of producing its sample collections this season rose as a result of the new schedule.
“We didn’t have to cut vacation short or hire anyone new, but we had to pay out a lot of money in overtime,” said a spokeswoman. “All of the design offices were under a lot of pressure simply because they had to work more rapidly.”
Other fashion houses, including Giorgio Armani and Versace, said the missing week hardly even registered on designers’ radar screens.
“Mr. Armani essentially has the collections finished before he goes on vacation, so the earlier schedule doesn’t make much of a difference to us,” a spokeswoman said.
Santo Versace, chief executive of the family company and the chairman of the National Chamber of Fashion, said the new schedule can only benefit business.
“In the U.S., for example, sale season starts very early — at the end of November. If we present our collection earlier, then the stores will get it earlier, which means the selling period will be longer before the promotions begin,” Versace said, adding that the new dates had no effect on vacations or design schedules. “We simply started coordinating and making orders ahead of time.”
Manufacturers such as Aeffe and Gilmar are smiling on the new schedule.
“I can’t see any disadvantages to the new timetable right now. We’re thrilled that we’ll be able to deliver our collections earlier,” said Ferretti, who owns the company with his sister, Alberta Ferretti.
Aeffe produces collections under license for Ferretti, Moschino, Jean Paul Gaultier, Rifat Ozbek and Narciso Rodriguez and works closely with those designers.
“Designers’ creativity is in constant flow; the day after the fashion show, their minds are already on the next collection,” Ferretti added. “I can’t believe that losing a week could create that much pressure.”
Missoni admits that while he is in favor of the new schedule, his sister Angela, who designs the collections, had some adjustments to make. “She had to come back earlier from vacation, and she wasn’t crazy about that,” said Missoni, laughing. “But, believe me, the extra week will mean that we can offer better service to our customers, and be sure of delivering on time. It’s a question of organization. After a couple of seasons, everything will seem like normal.”
As for the shorter August holiday, Missoni is firm: “Of course everyone wants to close in August, but we have to change that mentality if we want to provide better service to our customers. Maybe we have to start taking our holidays in July.”
A byproduct of the shift in shows has been an earlier fabric fair timetable. Last year, Italian and French trade fair organizers announced that the main fabric shows would take place earlier in the season in order to accommodate designers’ new schedules.
Moda In, Italy’s largest fabric fair, took place Sept. 6-8, and many exhibitors admitted they could present only partial collections to clients. Even Boselli, who favors an earlier fashion schedule, said producing his latest collection was “extremely tiring” and that he went to the fair with only 80 percent of his fabrics in tow.
Giovanni Proserpio, the director of sales and exports at the high-end fabric mill Limonta, said he went to the fair with 100 percent of his collection — but at a high price.
“We had less time for research, and we were forced to take three instead of four weeks’ holiday this summer,” he said.
Some designers also said the dates of Moda In didn’t allow the mills enough time to do their research.
“We went to the fair looking for new directions, but we didn’t see them here,” said a member of the DKNY design team interviewed at the fair. “We usually get a much better picture of what the coming season will look like.”
Next year, however, Italy’s mills will have a little more time as show dates will be pushed to mid-February for the spring-summer 2001 season and mid-September for the fall-winter 2001-2002 season.
A spokesman for Marzotto, which makes high-end fabrics and clothing collections for Missoni and Ferre, said fabric and fashion companies have no choice but to ride out this moment of change in the market.
“Now more than ever, there is a focus on the final consumer, who wants to buy her clothing earlier in the season,” he said. “In the end, she’s the one we’re working for.”