Think of Rome and the ancient monuments, the priceless art, the timeless history come to mind. At the other end of the scale, perhaps you visualise a good plate of pasta served up in your favourite trattoria or, if you want to be a real spoil-sport, you grouch about the traffic.

But nowadays, do you think of Rome as a hub of high fashion? Probably not, and this is where AltaRoma comes in. AltaRoma was created in 1998, when the previous Agenzia per la Moda a body instituted by Romes city council, the Chamber of Commerce and the region of Lazio called for the collaboration of a group of top entrepreneurs from the Roman fashion scene. The result, AltaRoma, became a partially privatised company.

Ettore Perrone, vice-president of AltaRoma and head of the Roman fasion house Brioni (whose superb tailoring has added elegant cool to Pierce Brosnans James Bond), explains that the company was created to restore Romes standing in the world of haute couture. Milan has overtaken Paris as Europes high-fashion capital and leads Italy in womens prt--porter, while Florence leads in mens, but Romes status in the fashion world has slumped in recent decades, despite the international fame of some Roman designers.

The citys golden age lasted from the end of the second world war into the early 1960s, running parallel with its cinematographic heyday. With cult films such as William Wylers Ben Hur (1958) and Fellinis La Dolce Vita (1959) pouring out of Cinecitt, made in Rome fashion became world famous. But these days the otherwise culturally-rich city has lost its heritage of fashion leadership.

AltaRomas principal objective is to reinstate the Eternal City at the top of the fashion world, says Perrone, to present it as a symbol of designer quality, innovation and creativity. AltaRomas mission, if you like, is to put Rome firmly back on the high fashion map, to recreate that special Dolce Vita feeling of magic and glamour side-by-side with new millennium chic.

Among AltaRomas initiatives is the organisation of annual collections. These are presented twice a year, in January and July, as a showcase for new talent. But getting a budding designer label onto the catwalk is a competitive task for graduates, many of whom emerge from Romes designer schools, such as the European Institute of Design and Koefia (the Accademia Internazionale dAlta Moda e dArte del Costume). An independent jury formed by fashion journalists scrutinises the large numbers of submissions for each presentation, of which only about a quarter are selected.

This summers collections include entries from Britain, Russia, Greece, Australia and New Zealand, which will be presented on the catwalks alongside their Italian counterparts. The collections will be backed by presentations of established labels such as Gai Mattiolo (whose chief executive, Stefano Dominella, is president of AltaRoma), Egon Von Frstenberg, Lorenzo Riva, Raffaella Curiel, Renato Balestra and Gattinoni.

AltaRomas summer show begins on 13 July with an inaugural party at the trendy Caserma Palidoro, a former Carabinieri barracks on Viale Tor di Quinto, which will be opened to the public for the first time. On 14 July, the collections will literally take to Romes streets, and from about 11.00 until well into the evening Via Margutta and Via del Babuino will be aswarm with models presenting the young designers creations. From 15 to 18 July, AltaRoma will move to the Auditorium Parco della Musica, where the collections will be presented to an invited audience. On display at the venue will be an exhibition of Moschinos private collection of objets dart and frames, while a Mila Schn exhibition will feature her designs from the 1960s to the 1980s.

The guests of honour at the show will include the high priestess of Italian fashion Krizia, and young designer Antonio Berardi, famous for his dresses made of straw. The Anglo-Italian stylist, who works out of London, is hot news in the international fashion world and numbers the former Posh Spice, Victoria Beckham, among his clients.

Picture: Egon Von Frstenberg is applauded by his models. Photo courtesy of AltaRoma.

Donna sotto le stelle

July is the month for fashion collections, and as well as the shows presented by AltaRoma and individual couturiers, the city is preparing for the impact of the annual spectacle known as Donna sotto le stelle. This rather pleasant title translates as woman under the stars, but what it really means is that a plethora of spindle-shaped models will float beautifully down the Spanish Steps on the evening of 16 July, presenting famous designers collections.

This year marks the 20th birthday of the Donna shindig, and each time it seems that the build-up is more exciting than the actual show itself, despite the unique backdrop. Which designer, top model or TV personality will throw a tantrum at the last minute and not turn up? Will the lights fail? Will some dusty by-law be unearthed in the archives of the city hall, banning the whole thing? And, good heavens, what if it rains? Such wild and not-so-wild speculation, of course, is all part of the fun. But perhaps nothing will equal the shock of the 2001 edition when Valentino and Armani failed to show at the last minute. Last year the famous Italian designers gave a repeat performance of noses haute in the air.

Historic centre habitus will perhaps be wise to avoid the Spanish Steps area on the night and watch the event on TV. It will be shown by Canale 5 on 16 July. Those who remember the 2000 edition will no doubt watch with bated breath and heart in mouth. That was the year an unfortunate model tripped and came tumbling down the time-worn steps. We can but hope that in 2003, skyscraper heels are out.