MILAN, Italy – Models refused to pose, photographers stilled their flashes and stylists laid down their brushes for three hours Wednesday to protest the lack of rules governing their industry, which they complain is taking the gloss off Italy's fashion capital.
"When you go to New York or Paris, there are rules you have to follow. You need a visa to work, or a license," said Guido Dolci, the president of Assem, an association that represents some of the largest fashion agencies operating in Milan.
"But when people come to Milan, there are no rules. I have worked in the industry for 25 years and I see many agencies that come to Milan and do work without any permits."
Dolci said the action is not targeting agencies from abroad — many of which, he said, would like to follow the rules if they only knew what they were — but to raise public awareness of the competition faced by Italy's fashion community.
"This is not a war between the United States and Italy or France and Italy. This is a war on those who are not aware of the damage they are doing to our system," Dolci said. "We are suffering from the international competition."
The strikers are pressing for a licensing system for agencies coming from abroad, and regulations that would require, for example, that an agency deposit money in an Italian bank before beginning work to ensure that people working on a shoot get paid.
Dolci also would like to see a rule requiring at least half of the content of an Italian-based fashion magazine to be produced in Italy.
"Obviously, if you need a picture of a building in New York City, you need to go there. But if it is studio work, it could be done here," Dolci said. "Often they say, 'Oh, we need the light of New York, or the light of Los Angeles.' But the light in New York is not different from the one here. This is just an excuse."
Internationally known photographer Antonio Guccione participated in the action in a show of solidarity.
"In the 1980s, everyone was here, all of the most famous models and photographers. Everybody worked in Milan," said Guccione, whose photographs have appeared in Vanity Fair, among other magazines, and whose subjects have included Umberto Eco, Federico Fellini and Giorgio Armani. "Now the situation is different. Everyone shoots abroad and our economy has fallen."
Dolci told some 100 participants who gathered during the action that the crisis striking the fashion industry — which he estimated has an annual turnover of $1.2 billion a year — also hit other areas, such as hotels, restaurants, museums and taxi drivers.
"The damages are huge," he said.
Assem has had some success already lobbying in Rome, for example, to have Italian consulates around the world put a stamp from the association in the passports of models and others in the fashion industry to clarify their status, the association said.