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MILAN — Cynics might claim that fashion isn’t doing enough to find and support new talent, but nearly every marquee designer who shows in this city turned out for Vogue and Italian Vogue’s Fashion Fund dinner to support that very cause.

Miuccia Prada, Donatella Versace, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, Burberry’s Christopher Bailey, Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz, Rochas’ Olivier Theyskens and Roberto Cavalli were a few of the designers to stop by the event, held in a 17th-century brick structure that once housed a cemetery. Between courses of pesto pasta and sea bass, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Italian Vogue’s Franca Sozzani, Naomi Campbell and Milan Mayor Gabriele Albertini presented the three finalists in a design competition.

“If Milan is to remain the fashion capital it is today, this country needs youth and vitality,” Wintour said just before announcing the winner, a design duo of 33-year-olds, Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi. Their label, 6267, and the contest’s other two finalists, Albino D’Amato and footwear designer Carlo Alberto Pregnolato, together made their runway debuts in Milan at the “Who Is On Next?” show last Wednesday. D’Amato got first runner up while Pregnolato came in third.

“All of the people you’ve always admired are here,” said Rimondi, a longtime consultant at Max Mara. “It’s a bit scary because we’re really starting now.”

It’s easy to understand why a young designer could feel intimidated in a setting like this. A gaggle of supermodels and celebrities such as Linda Evangelista, Eva Herzigova, Alek Wek, Carré Otis, Lucy Liu and Heather Graham rounded out an already impressive designer turnout. Seating was tight — word has it that a handful of Victoria Beckham‘s bodyguards snagged seats reserved for other guests.

“It’s fabulous,” said a smiling Versace as she panned the room. “It’s great to see everyone all together.”

This story first appeared in the October 3, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Elbaz, who came directly from the airport to attend the event, was delighted to see Julie Gilhart, vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York. “We are friends and we are old. We are old friends,” he joked as he embraced her.

Meanwhile, designers were emphatic on the importance of nurturing new design talent.

“All of us, not just Milan, but also in the U.K., need to support and nurture new talent,” said Burberry’s Bailey, who does his own part by offering yearlong internships to fashion students in the U.K. “We need to listen and be educated about new points of view, because every generation has a different point of view.”

Dolce agreed: “We need to organize more events like this, and the Italian press needs to write about new designers. You need to have faith and patience because a young designer doesn’t grow up overnight.”

Prada quipped that there’s just one problem with hiring aspiring designers: “Once they’ve learned, they go away.”

Prada said her company has done a lot for young people and now that tradition is extending to her own family members.

“My children came for the first time,” she said of her two teenage sons, Giulio and Lorenzo. “I think maybe now they’re interested because their friends want to come, or maybe they wanted to look at the girls.”

Many an air kiss was exchanged between designers as the Milan crowd decompressed from a hectic week of shows and the Paris crew prepares for its own whirlwind.

Yves Saint Laurent designer Stefano Pilati and Theyskens represented opposite ends of the spectrum of preshow panic.

“I can’t do anything now anyway. I am all ready, except for the fittings. And the girls are here [in Milan],” said Theyskens, who’s not planning any all-nighters. “I like to sleep a little. You have to go out and take a bow. You don’t want to look terrible.”

Pilati was a tad less tranquil: “I could shoot myself.”

As for Alberta Ferretti, she’s learned to cope with postshow fatigue.

“That’s fashion,” she said. “It’s a life. I love it. I’m lucky.”

Gucci designer Frida Giannini was just happy that the weekend had come. “Tomorrow’s Saturday and I’m sleeping,” she said.

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