Milan breaks ceasefire on fashion week schedules

London says Italians contravening 2008 accord with 2012 dates clash in a hullaballoo that underlines serious issues for industry

After a summer of peace, hostilities have resumed between the rival cities of Paris, Milan, New York and London for supremacy in the fashion industry.

The latest flashpoint is the catwalk calendar for next September. Milan fashion week has announced dates which clash with those of London. The organisers of London's shows have been joined by those of New York's in claiming that this directly contravenes an agreement in 2008, when this problem last flared. Mario Boselli, head of the Italian catwalks' governing body, claims that the deal was only valid for three years.

The British Fashion Council on Tuesday confirmed the standoff, saying: "Camera Nazionale della Moda [the Italian body] and Chambre syndicale [the French one] 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."

Behind the brinkmanship and ego-battles lie serious issues for the industry – and it is London fashion week that is most at risk, occupying as it does a vulnerable five-day slot directly between New York and Milan. New York is unwilling to move dates earlier next year, citing the closeness to Labor Day weekend, the US public holiday, which causes production issues, and London designers fear that dates too early in September will be logistically impossible in the immediate aftermath of the Olympics.

Italian designers, however, feel that their 2012 dates (as designated in the 2008 agreement) do not allow enough time for production of the clothes in time for delivery to stores. With pressure at both ends, it is London whose slot stands most at risk of feeling the squeeze.

The clashes also highlight the broader issue of an antiquated catwalk show calendar at odds with the needs of the modern fashion industry. Designers are looking for ways to steal a march on a set up where clothes are not on sale for six months after the catwalk shows, citing the opportunity this hands to fast-fashion chains to cash in on catwalk trends before designers can.

Deliveries are moving earlier, "pre-season" collections becoming more important. Burberry customers watching the show online can order online direct from the catwalk and receive their clothes before they hit stores.

There is a growing feeling in the industry that the traditional catwalk set up is creaking. It is propped up by a deep fondness for catwalk as theatre and, at times, art form. But the stately tour of four cities is rooted in a time when fashion was a more leisurely pursuit, and does not reflect the frenetic business it is today.

Perhaps more crucially, there is a widening chasm between the once all-important front row – the makeup of which has changed only marginally in recent years – and the huge shift in the balance of power which has happened in fashion. The rise of power bloggers and online retailers expanding into the trendsetting territory which once belonged to glossy magazines has changed the industry in ways which makes the courtly seating arrangements of the catwalk look dated.

All rows, front to back, will be busy on Tuesday in Paris debating the rights or wrongs of this battle. The Italians contend that they had assumed New York fashion week, which began on Thursday 8 September this year, would begin on Thursday 6 September next year.

However, a global magazine company has sided with New York and London. The industry paper WWD reported on Tuesday that Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Conde Nast International, has written to inform Boselli that Vogue editors worldwide like the current schedule.

"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," he siad.

Newhouse even suggests that Vogue editors – including, potentially, the editor of Italian Vogue – would not attend the Milan shows if they were scheduled in conflict with London or New York. According to Boselli, Italian designers are showing a united front in "reflecting and rethinking the situation". He predicts a decision will be reached "well before the end of the month."


Jess Cartner-Morley, fashion editor

The GuardianTramp

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