By Patrick Hedlund
DNAInfo News Editor
LITTLE ITALY — If they build it, will Giorgio Armani come?
Organizers of the San Gennaro Feast are trying to lure the world-renowned Italian fashion designer to a runway they're planning to erect on Mulberry Street this year in the middle of the annual 11-day festival, which conveniently coincides with Fashion Week.
Organizers said that their publicist is working to court the couture king, who opened a flagship store on Fifth Avenue a few years ago, in hopes of smoothing over the rift between supporters of the 85-year-old event and critics among the neighborhood's growing fashion scene who think it's bad for business.
"We believe that this will highlight Italian design and its part in the culture," said John Fratta, a San Gennaro board member whose great-grandfather helped found the festival in 1926.
"We're hoping that once we get this famous designer, that these boutiques will be smart enough to say, 'we need to get involved in this'," Fratta added.
But a spokeswoman for Armani said the invite was news to her.
"We have received no request from the San Gennaro festival for participation," said Jenia Molnar, VP of public relations for Georgio Armani Group.
The Armani request comes on the heels of the San Gennaro Feast organizers' offer to construct an open-air stage for use by the growing number of high-end clothiers on Mulberry Street north of Kenmare, which is the dividing line between Little Italy and NoLIta.
NoLIta boutique owners have railed against the street fair on the grounds that the festival's rowdy patrons and odiferous food stands drive away their business.
At least one boutique employee thought the idea of bringing Armani to Mulberry Street was laughable.
"Do you think Giorgio Armani going to deal with this? Come on," said Jenny Karen, the manager of Variazioni at 236 Mulberry St.
"He doesn't care about San Gennaro, even though he's Italian," Karen continued, adding that Armani may want to donate money to event, but not walk his "expensive" models down the catwalk.
"Why should he care? He has a good life — I'm sure his goal is to make more money and succeed more, and not to waste his time."
Community Board 2 recently sided with the San Gennaro opponents, and recommended that the city's Street Activity Permit Office stop the street fair short at Kenmare Street instead of allowing it to continue to extend all the way to Houston Street, as they have in previous years.
Recently, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver waded into the controversy, expressing his support for the full event in a letter to the city's permit office requesting that the festival remain intact.
"While there have been suggestions that this annual feast be shortened," Silver wrote, "I feel that this important cultural, food and art festival should be allowed to continue to run its full length, from Canal Street to Houston Street, in the tradition we have enjoyed for so many years."
Depending on how many blocks the city allows them to include in the festival, San Gennaro organizers have pledged to build the fashion stage on Mulberry Street at either Spring or Houston streets, and they plan to host fashion-themed events regardless of who commits.
"Right now we want to wait for Armani just to see how that goes, and from there we'll take the next step," Fratta said. "We're confident we will have a designer during the Feast of San Gennaro doing a fashion show."