Some of the biggest names in fashion have been told by European Union (EU) industry commissioner Antonio Tajani that their design and craftsmanship would enable the sector to hold its own in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Speaking at a lunch in Brussels yesterday (22 November), attended by representatives from Chanel, Dior, Versace, Harrods and Emilio Pucci - and just-style - Tajani said European fashion design needs to be guided by the demanding tastes of Europe's customers at home rather than the demands of retailers abroad, and quality will surely follow. "European fashion is for consumers, not only companies", he explained.

And, although some of the lunch guests noted rising competitive pressures in Europe, "people come to Europe for absolute trust, absolute perfect craftsmanship," said Michael Ward, managing director of Harrods.

Michele Tronconi, president of Sistema Moda Italia, which represents the Italian textile and fashion industry, stressed that the location of production facilities was still important in global fashion.

In order to facilitate production within its borders, Europe has to become more competitive. He noted that one way to bring production back to Europe would be to reduce energy costs, the high cost of energy being one of the main factors behind the migration of production to third countries.

Commissioner Tajani discussed his plan for fashion goods to bear a 'Made in Europe' label in addition to a tag marking the country of production. This is a concept cultured by the cabinet in his European Commission industry and enterprise directorate general.

Although backed by the European Parliament, the proposal has led to heated discussion within the EU Council of Ministers where there has been resistance from those placing top importance on national sovereignty.

The Made in Europe label would only be used if the given product follows certain quality and production criteria, the parameters of which still have to be negotiated amongst the EU institutions. Commissioner Tajani sees it as an important step towards continued strengthening of the identity of European craftsmanship.

Those attending the luncheon agreed that Europe has to remain innovative. Increasing numbers of young designers are working in independent, self-funded workshops who are "getting back to reality" according to Christian Dior Couture president Sidney Toledano. These are designers that nurture and develop their collections and create a unique vision.

Guests also spoke of these designers emerging across the continent. Spanish designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada emphasised that European talent should respect each other's intellectual property and creativity as a way to avoid imitation and homogeny and thus breed innovation.

Ward added that Harrods had played a part in this by establishing a scholarship-like programme that provides GBP100,000 (US$155,860) to up-and-coming designers in order to promote European innovation.

The story behind the product
Can the European fashion industry continue to thrive as a quality sector with a global reputation when there is such a significant outsourcing of manufacturing to emerging markets?

Ward told just-style that: "European brands will thrive if they have the story behind the product. That is the history that people will pay the premium for and I think people should not be ashamed of that - you're getting something that will be passed down from generation to generation."

People are moving from mid-market to premium-market "because they want the quality that they can pass down to their children. People prize that Chanel bag their mother or grandmother had," he said. 

He added that European fashion brands had also moved beyond clothing, venturing into jewellery, fragrances, home products and, in some cases, even wine.

They are embracing and contributing to the staples of European craftsmanship, he said. Physical locations such as Harrods personify European quality, drawing tourists in and advertising Europe when they bring it back home.