Reportage. Workers walk out of a Milan fashion house in runway style to protest the aggressive layoffs of the new private equity owners.

At Roberto Cavalli, a red carpet strike in Corso Vittorio Emanuele

The red carpet for a parade of fashion workers about to be laid off is a quite an unusual sight in Corso Vittorio Emanuele, one of the most famous luxury shopping streets in the world. Because it is at odds with the cloying glamor of Milan, which sells fashion. And because the Italian fashion industry will grow by 1.4 percent this year, one point less than in 2015 but still twice as fast as the Italian economy (with total annual sales of €83.6 billion).

But not all that glitters is a sequin. Just ask the workers of the Roberto Cavalli fashion house — taken over a year ago by the Clessidra Capital Partners, a private equity firm — who are protesting against a harsh restructuring plan.

The one-hour strike Wednesday in front of the Milanese headquarters of the company came after the eight-hour walkout of last Friday. The unions Filctem Cgil, Cisl and Femca Uiltec declared: “The most affected office is Florence, where there were 39 layoffs in December. A quarter of the employees are affected by redundancy — 77 employees of 280, of which 75 percent are women, with an average age of 40 — and the press department will be eliminated. The plan also provides for the closure of the Milan office, their relocation to Sesto Fiorentino and the overall headcount reduction to 372 Italian employees.”

The layoffs affect 372 employees, out of which 115 are considered redundant: “As a union, we will meet with the company and open a table on the institutional crisis. We want a business plan. We will do everything we can to save jobs and keep the brand in the region.” Among the fired employees there is also the creative director Peter Dundas, who, after signing his third collection, left without slamming the door and without too many problems.

Behind the numbers there are people’s lives and — “creative” though it is — a compulsory transfer may be worse than a dismissal. “We are not parcels to be shipped as they please. Everyone has a story to tell and their own dignity,” the 80 employees of the Milan office said Wednesday, mimicking a runway show between cardboard boxes. For example, Davide is to be fired and his girlfriend Silvia will be transferred. During the protest, other workers took advantage of the location to parade with the helmet and the traditional banner, those of General Electric.

The company’s accounts have been in the red since 2014, and it got worse after Roberto and Eva Cavalli left the group: The last financial statement closed with €210 million in revenues and a net loss of €12 million. Neither does 2016 bode well, according to the new owners at the Clessidra fund, a company that manages financial transactions to “add value to the investment.”

Giacomo Ferraris explains: “The fashion industry is going through difficult times, dictated by a significant drop in consumption in several key markets and a substantial transformation of the industry dynamics. In this context, only the iconic brands with a coherent business model and an efficient organization will be able to survive.”

In other words: For the Cavalli brand to survive in all its splendor, 115 people will have to be booted. This is a simple financial transaction to increase the value of the investment.

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