updated 28 Feb 2014, 08:07
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Big brands parade but Milan fashion fest looks beyond
by Dario Thuburn

With big brands defending their dominance and the fashion press wary of taking a gamble, new designers sometimes struggled to be heard in Milan but Vogue Italia's editor told AFP that is all in the past.

As Italy's youngest-ever prime minister, the 39-year-old Matteo Renzi, prepares to take power in the coming days, emerging talent is creating all the buzz in Italy's traditional fashion hub.

"Things are really changing," Vogue Italia's Franca Sozzani told AFP at the opening of a show where 11 young designers from around the world have been given a chance to exhibit their work.

"Milan produces a lot of young designers", the fashion editor said, as she toured the eye-catching displays in a project sponsored by Vogue Italia and fashion shopping site

"We are looking for young people all over the world. We want the production to remain in Italy but the creativity can come from anywhere," Sozzani said.

At a party launching the event, young designers rubbed shoulders with Gucci creative director Frida Giannini, Donatella Versace and Angela Missoni.

"For me presenting at Milan Fashion week is a huge support and I think this is a great platform to showcase my talent," said Wadha Al-Hajri from Qatar, who produces under the brand name "Wadha".

Al-Hajri said her designs - which included skirts with mashrabiya window lattice patterns and images of the "eye" talisman - were inspired by her Arab heritage and her passion for architecture.

"I think it's really rare to have good quality and a great piece from young designers and that's what we offer," said the international affairs graduate, who was wearing a traditional Muslim veil.

At a nearby stand, Phyllis Taylor, a British designer of Ghanaian origin, showed off a colourful selection of African print dresses made in Ghana.

"Initiatives like this are amazing," said Taylor, whose brand name "Sika" was a nickname meaning "money" that relatives used for her mother because she sent money back to Ghana from Britain.

She said the Milan project helped up-and-coming designers "to give them confidence to know that they are doing a good job and to keep going," she said.

'It's super cute'

The National Chamber of Italian Fashion, which organises the twice yearly ready-to-wear fashion fest, is taking note of the shift and is also now aiming to promote young, international talent.

"We've got the young names that are coming up but we definitely need to find more space and that's something we'll work on in the future," said Jane Reeve, the new head of the fashion chamber, who took up her duties in January.

"We need to work more on the calendar, bring in other names," said Reeve, a former top British advertising executive who has lived in Italy for 26 years.

One novelty this year is "Trendboard" - a project in which students from the Istituto Marangoni fashion school publish their versions of the season's catwalk trends on the fashion chamber's website.

"It's super cute and super interesting," said Diana Murek, a lecturer at the school and a fashion blogger who is overseeing the joint project.

The institute is in the heart of the city's fashion district and has branches in London, Paris and Shanghai, attracting a growing number of foreign students.

The Milan headquarters has students from 92 countries, with 55 percent of the student body coming from abroad - many of them from Brazil, China and Russia.

"The industry is transforming," said Murek, pointing out that students were also finding jobs on the digital media side of the sector or in areas such as personal shopping and celebrity styling.

But designers starting out in Italy face the usual bureaucratic difficulties.

"Everything takes a long time and is a bit complicated," Murek said.

"Politicians should also start taking fashion more seriously. It's not just frivolous, it's also a business!"

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