Hope for recovery as Milan fashion week kicks off

MILAN - Italy's top luxury brands show off their latest collections at Milan Fashion Week starting on Wednesday with high hopes for a recovery of the sector this year even amid the latest government crisis.

Gucci, Frankie Morello and Alberta Ferretti inaugurate six days of catwalks, presentations and fashionista parties in a celebration of creative talent that also seeks to highlight the best up-and-coming designers.

The young designers to watch will be Fausto Puglisi, Marco De Vincenzo and Stella Jean as the 65 shows and 80 presentations in Italy's business capital get under way for a total of 144 ready-to-wear collections.

"Milan Fashion Week puts on display the work of thousands of artisans and professionals that the whole world envies," said Jane Reeve, the new chief executive of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion.

"It is also a chance to work on the future of the sector," said Reeve, an Italy-based former British advertising executive who was appointed in December and is overseeing her first fashion week.

A slight recovery began in Italy in the fourth quarter of 2013 with 0.1 per cent growth after the longest ever post-war recession but political instability is chronic and the country is currently government-less.

Centre-left leader Matteo Renzi has been asked to form a government after he ousted former prime minister Enrico Letta in a lightning power grab last week and is currently stuck in talks to form a coalition.

Fashion chamber president Mario Boselli said the forecast was for a 5.4-per cent rise in turnover for the fashion sector this year after a 1.8-per cent decline in 2013 and a 5.4-per cent drop in 2012.

"This is a positive turnaround," Boselli said before the shows, although he stressed banks needed to do more to help fashion brands hit by the economic crisis.

Fellow industry body, Sistema Moda Italia, has also predicted growth of 2.1 per cent in the first half.

Boselli said the sector should also start preparing for Expo 2015 - a "major opportunity" that will bring some 20 million visitors to Italy's fashion capital.

Fashion-related events are planned to accompany the Expo, which lasts from May 1 to October 31, 2015.

Milan's fashion world is already trying to reach a wider public and one novelty this week will be the catwalk shows being broadcast live on screens around the city including the La Rinascente department store.

Work by students from the city's prestigious Istituto Marangoni fashion school will also be displayed during the week to underline the emphasis on young talent.

The catwalk shows on Thursday will include Fendi, which has said it will have cameras 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, Roberto Cavalli and Jil Sander on Saturday and Marni and Missoni on Sunday.

The week rounds off on Monday with Canadian duo DSquared2 and Italian fashion king Giorgio Armani.

Casting a shadow during the fashion celebrations has been the recent turmoil in emerging markets, where strong export sales in recent years have helped shield luxury designers from recession and stagnation at home.

Another worry is a recent report from consultancy Bain & Co that found the stellar growth enjoyed by the global luxury sector is beginning to slow down.

Renzo Rosso, the tousle-haired founder of the Diesel jeans brand and a member of the board of the fashion chamber in Milan, underlined the need for Italy's designer labels to keep up with changing times.

"Our whole world is undergoing a revolution and the basis of our way of creating, communicating and selling is changing," the fashion entrepreneur said.

"The fashion sector has to embrace this revolution with enthusiasm and a sincere, innovative spirit."