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MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Minutes to go until showtime, and the cool calm that was has turned into a manic frenzy as stylists, makeup artists and hairdressers add the final touches to the models about to strut down the catwalk.
It has taken the team at Italian fashion brand Frankie Morello about two months to work on this autumn/winter 2010-2011 womenswear show but they will have only 10 minutes of catwalk time to impress the fashion press pack and buyers.
"You can cut other costs but you can't cut on a show," Pierfrancesco Gigliotti, one of the brand's founding designers, told Reuters. "Shows are our biggest investment. They are the most important moment for us."
Putting on a fashion show is the top event in any designer's diary, but the smooth, cool look on the catwalk takes months of preparations and organization.
From models and stylists to electricians and invitation writers, some 8,000 people are involved in this February 24 - March 1 Milan fashion week, according to Italy's National Chamber of Fashion, which organizes the event.
The body begins its work five months before the start of fashion week, sorting out rooms for designers who don't have their own showing areas. It starts working on a show calendar with a four-month headstart.
Several drafts have to be made before the final version is printed as designers have been known to wrangle over timing, especially when the international press wants to keep its stay in town as short as possible to cut costs.
This year the big names have been squeezed into four days after powerful fashion editor, Vogue's Anna Wintour, reportedly shortened her attendance.
The chamber has accredited some 1,300 journalists from all around the world but each fashion house has to sort out accreditation for its own shows as well as the seating -- some rival fashionistas may not want to sit next to each other.
Then there are the celebrities that need to be invited.
Thousands of buyers also descend onto Italy's fashion capital and several of the top designer names, such as Giorgio Armani, Versace and Gucci host separate shows for them.
Cars will be rented or for those pulling in purse strings, the chamber provides a shuttle service.
Last year, several fashion houses in the four fashion capitals New York, London, Paris and Milan cut back on their catwalk expenses -- with some pulling shows altogether -- as the economic downturn hit the luxury sector.
While fancy canapes and champagne are now rare, designers are still keen to invest highly in their shows.
"There were (cost) cuts last year but there is more investment in 2010. Investing in a show is a production investment because of the returns it brings," the fashion chamber's director Giulia Pirovano told Reuters.
"The value of all the publicity that comes from fashion publications is 10 times the investment put into a show and this is important. That is why all the designers want all the top models, the best stylists, the best makeup artists."
A smaller catwalk show can cost some 80,000 euros ($108,700), while the bigger players can easily reach 1 million euros, Pirovano said. Top models can demand 10,000 euros to walk down the catwalk.
At Frankie Morello, there were 18 models on the catwalk, well below the 40 women used in 2009, but the designers said they were not cutting costs. Numbers have varied at other shows. Prada had 40 models strutting down the catwalk.
"We live in a fast world, where everything is fast, including fashion," Gigliotti said. "We have 36 creations on the catwalk this year, with a rock band performing live and video installations."
Ten minutes later at Frankie Morello and after loud applause from the audience, the champagne corks are popping backstage.
Editing by Paul Casciato