Wednesday, July 9, 2008

New mayor seeks to restore fashion glory for Rome

New mayor seeks to restore fashion glory for Rome

ROME (Reuters) - Rome's new right-wing mayor says he wants to turn the ancient city into a modern hub for budding fashion designers, dismissing criticism that the city's rich art and culture credentials will take a beating under his command.

Gianni Alemanno, a former youth leader of a neo-fascist party, was elected on a law and order ticket and had frequently attacked his centre-left predecessor for focusing on glitz and rolling out the red carpet to stars and musicians.

But Alemanno, known more for his tough stance on crime and illegal immigrants, told Reuters he too has an eye for the artistic, but with a focus on substance rather than image.

That means encouraging local talent, developing fashion schools and possibly setting up a university faculty focused on fashion in Rome, he said.

"I want Rome to become a city of fashion, focusing mainly on young and new designers; seeking a strong and precise character that sets it up as a base for excellence in fashion," he said on the sidelines of a Gucci fashion show in the city.

"I'm trying to be more concrete, to avoid that this is done -- as they say in Rome -- just transiently, for just image; for me this must be a fact rooted in Roman creation and production."

Former mayor Walter Veltroni was credited with reviving Rome's cultural scene, partly by starting an international film festival that brought back some of the "Dolce Vita" glamour of the 1950s and 1960s.

He also lured fashion designer Valentino back to the capital for a celebratory show last year before retiring.

Still, Rome has for years struggled to find its place on the fashion map, languishing in the shadow of Milan in the north.

Organizers of the city's twice a year AltaRoma fashion weeks have also been taking aim at young talent in a bid to raise the city's fashion profile, but with mixed results so far.

The fashion weeks boast a rotating list of emerging designers from around the globe that attract B-list Italian stars and wealthy Romans to their shows, but politicians and fashion buyers are often conspicuously absent.

The big Roman fashion houses like Fausto Sarli have long complained that Italy's political class -- including those dressed by the designers -- snub their parades.

AltaRoma CEO Adriano Franchi says that while that is a legitimate complaint, Rome attracts more fashion buzz than the designers give it credit for.

"Designers, in as much as they're creative, are used to complaining," he told Reuters. "Dissatisfaction is the force that pushes you produce something beautiful."

Alemanno, who met Roman designers at his office on Wednesday, said they could count on him at least.

"I've been in office for just two months and I'm already here," he said after the Gucci catwalk show, "which means we're present and we will invest a lot in high fashion."


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