Milan fashion moves downtown

Milan fashion week, sandwiched between those of London and Paris, opens Wednesday with catwalks in the centre of Italy's financial hub instead of out in the suburbs.

No fewer than 78 fashion houses will show their ready-to-wear collections for spring/summer 2011.

As the shows move downtown - to the 16th-century Palazzo dei Giureconsulti and three other venues - they will also be broadcast live on big screens at four locations in the northern industrial city.

The extravaganza that used to be held at an exhibition centre northwest of Milan will cover six days, contrasting with a frantic long weekend in February, when American Vogue editor Anna Wintour threw organisers into a tailspin by indicating that she could spare only three days for Milan.

Top fashion houses concentrated their shows over those days, leaving smaller outfits in the cold with far less media coverage.

At the time, Milan mayor Letizia Moratti huffed: "No one, even if her name is Anna Wintour, can make or unmake our fashion calendar."

Wintour, the inspiration for the book and subsequent film "The Devil Wears Prada" featuring the fearsome head of a fashion magazine, is regarded by many as the most influential person in the industry.

"People were fed up with this senseless programme," said Mario Boselli, head of Italy's Fashion Chamber.

"For the first time we managed to get all the designers around a table, including three non-members - Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Marni - and together we worked out a more balanced week," he said.

Gucci will kick off the pageant on Wednesday, followed by Fendi and Prada on Thursday, Moschino, Gianfranco Ferre and Versace on Friday, Bottega Veneta and Emporio Armani on Saturday, Dolce & Gabbana and Salvatore Ferragamo on Sunday, and Roberto Cavalli and Giorgio Armani on Monday.

Organisers have come under fire for excluding collections of lingerie, swimwear and other labels designed for larger women.

"It was a difficult but necessary decision," Boselli said. "Some labels just weren't in line with what ready-to-wear week should be. We wanted to champion the values of creativity to reaffirm Milan's role in the world."

Notably, Elena Miro has not been invited to repeat a five-year-old tradition of opening the week with her creations for larger sizes.

She will stage a show on Wednesday outside of the official calendar, saying it would be a "first international audition for size 40 (10 US, 12 UK) and up."

Another innovation will be free bike-sharing for journalists covering Fashion Week.