Rome haute couture pleads for help

Wed Feb 25, 2009 8:19pm EST
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By Deepa Babington

ROME (Reuters) - Everyone in Italy's clothing industry is begging for state aid, but some of the loudest cries for help are coming from the exclusive haute couture segment known more for sequined extravagance than humble pleas.

Rome's couturiers -- who included the likes of Valentino and Roberto Capucci in their heyday -- are struggling as even the super-rich cut back on the custom-fitted, hand-sewn dresses that can easily cost 10,000 euros ($12,740) or more.

Couturiers face strong competition in their bid for aid as a growing list of players in Italy's 66-billion euro fashion sectorextend open palms amid a deepening recession.

Italy has already pledged $1.7 billion in aid to carmakers and over $15 billion for banks, and the fashion sector is lining up in hopes of being next, pointing to a 4 percent slide in sales last year and forecasts of a 5 percent fall this year.

At the high end Gattinoni, one of Rome's oldest fashion houses, says its haute couture sales slid 40 percent last year to prompt the first loss in its 62-year history, and organizers of Rome High Fashion week that ended this month say the crisis forced three stylists to abandon plans to participate.

"Until about two years ago you could just about maintain an atelier, but the crisis has dealt us the final blow," Gattinoni Chairman Stefano Dominella told Reuters at his atelier, where tailors measured silky fabric and sewed beads on to bustiers.

He rejects arguments that the luxurious world of haute couture is an unlikely candidate for state support.

Rome's couture scene may lack the glamour of Paris and has shrunk to a handful of houses like his, but the roots of Italian fashion lie in its ateliers that are veritable "museums" housing archives of sketches and time-honored techniques, he said.   Continued...

<p>A seamstress carries a mannequin in a sewing room at the Gattinoni fashion house studio in Rome February 18, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Helgren</p>