Competition between France and Italy is hotting up, with both countries fighting for first place in the highly profitable world of fashion, reported French daily Le Figaro last week. But Italy's bid is weakened by internal battles between Milan and Florence as both seek the title of fashion capital.

Paris is not ready to concede defeat either, as "Paris, the fashion capital", an event that ran in tandem with the haute couture shows from January 26 to 29 showed. This event consisted of exhibitions related to fashion in the textile and other related sectors such as menswear, womenswear, prêt-à-porter, lingerie, and Bijorhca fancy jewellery. Twenty fashion events will be staged in Paris this year.

French women spend a substantial amount of money on apparel (see table). Women's ready to wear, the largest sector, registered an increase in sales in France of 2.8 per cent while during the same period household consumption decreased and textile apparel sales increased by 1.2 per cent only. On average each woman spends 100 Euros per year (approximately $92) for her lingerie.

Led by groups such as LVMH, which encourages innovative designers, the trendiest designers from around the world are motivated to work and show their collections in France. Last year the fashion industry, with 20 exhibitions, welcomed 16 per cent more visitors than in 1999, of which 60 per cent were other than French.

In Italy, the rivalry between Milan and Florence has been fierce. Italian daily La Nazione and the Italian edition of the Herald Tribune both reported last week that this competition will soon come to an end, as both parties have come to an agreement called "Intesa Moda".

They have decided to set aside their rivalries to make Italy's innovative but fragmented fashion industry more competitive. According to this agreement, Milan's Sistema Moda Italia (SMI), a trade group representing about 1500 textile apparel firms, will join forces with the Pitti Immagine trade fair organisation in Florence with the objective of signing the "Intesa Moda" agreement in which both cities (Milan and Florence) will play an equal role in promotion of the Italian industry by setting up a joint venture.

Firms such as Gucci, Pucci and Ferragamo are based in the Florence area and made this city the home of Italian fashion. Said Raffaello Napoleone, CEO of Pitti Immagine: "Florence evolved from handicraft production of fashion apparel to a true fashion industry with its first fashion collection on February 12 1951. It will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary." In the mid 1970s designers such as Armani and Versace exhibited their collections in Milan so that they were close to their production bases.

The president of the Florence's Centro Moda (Fashion Centre), Vittorio Rimbotti, was keen to set the record straight however. "Make no mistake, the competition is an international one with Paris, New York, Germany," he said.

France: fashion expenditures by sector in 2000

Women's ready to wear
> 11bn Euro
2.5bn Euro
Fashion children's wear
4.57bn Euro
0.91bn Euro
7.84bn Euro
Leather goods
2.13bn Euro
Fancy Jewellery
0.20bn Euro

(Men's ready-to-wear figures not available)
(Source : Le Figaro)

Marc de Laroche
Sources: Le Figaro (France), La Nazione (Italy)