MILAN - Gucci opened Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday with a homage to the '60s as the new chief executive of Italy's fashion chamber told AFP the sector had finally "turned the corner".
Models in pastel-coloured mini dresses, soft furs and python boots paraded down the catwalk in what Gucci creative director Frida Giannini called "glamour at its purest".
Gucci said the designs were a tribute to "inspirational '60s style icons", with embroidered cocktail dresses, thigh-length trenchcoats and plenty of leather.
"I am trying more and more to get away from a sexy style to emphasise a romantic sensuality. Women have to like themselves above all," Giannini said after the show.
The collection kicks off six days of ready-to-wear designs in Italy's business hub, where hopes are high for a recovery this year in a sector that has been hit by recession.
"We've turned the corner," Ms Jane Reeve, the British chief executive of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion, who took up the post in January, told AFP in an interview.
"The fashion system has every right to think they will be in the forefront of recovery." Ms Reeve said the Chamber was forecasting a 5.4-per cent rise in turnover for the fashion sector as a whole this year after drops of 5.4 per cent in 2012 and 1.8 per cent in 2013.
She said she was planning to inject "energy, entertainment and a bit more glamour" in future fashion weeks to reflect the resurgent economic vibrancy of the sector.
"The style that Italians have is very hard to match," said Ms Reeve, a former top advertising executive who has lived in Italy for 26 years.
As she lunched with a risotto in a hotel restaurant in central Milan before the Gucci show, Reeve said her interest in Italian fashion began at a young age when she dreamt of importing Italian shoes to Britain.
"I've always had a shoe fetish!" she laughed.
The catwalks continued with a show by Frankie Morello - a chaste collection featuring models in chains with crosses and an array of youthful blue and pink pastel dresses.
Alberta Ferretti, who will be a judge on the first Italian edition of the hit reality TV show Project Runway starting this month, went for a more naturalistic look.
The collection was something between earthy and ethereal, featuring peacock feather colours, dragonfly motifs and rough brown dresses that looked like tree trunks.
Tip of fashion iceberg
At a party hosted by Vogue Italia on Wednesday night, big names like Donatella Versace rubbed shoulders with up-and-coming designers showing off and selling their work.
Franca Sozzani, the editor of Vogue Italia, which organised the event, said one of the distinguishing characteristics of Milan fashion week was that it was giving more and more room for young designers to flourish.
"Milan has the highest concentration of brands in the world and gives a lot of space to young people," she told AFP as she toured displays of young designers' work with famed and feared Vogue US editor Anna Wintour.
Thursday will see the latest designs from Fendi, which has announced it will have cameras mounted on drones flying along the catwalk - a first for the fashion community.
That will be followed by Etro and Versace on Friday, then Bottega Veneta and Roberto Cavalli on Saturday and Missoni on Sunday. The week ends on Monday with Canadian duo DSquared2 and fashion king Giorgio Armani.
The new names to watch will be Fausto Puglisi, Marco De Vincenzo and Stella Jean during 65 shows and 80 presentations.
Business daily Il Sole 24 Ore said the combined annual turnover of the brands taking part was 15 billion euros ($21 billion) but warned many of Italy's brands were too small and could fall "prey" to foreign buyers.
The newspaper added in an editorial that Italy was "unique" in the world in having the entire fashion production chain - textiles, tailoring and distribution - in one country.
"Italian fashion weeks are the tip of an iceberg, compared with a fashion system in France that is little more than an ice cream and a British one that is just an ice lolly."