Top labels hope for a boost to Made in Italy in Milan

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After New York and London, it’s the turn of Italy’s luxury capital: charcoal greys, burnt oranges, hot reds and glitter have dominated the catwalks so far and all eyes are on Milan to bring that touch of Italian sophistication.

But as houses show off their hotly-awaited autumn-winter 2013 collections to global fashionistas, Italians will be flocking to the polls Sunday and Monday to elect a new government which could boost or reduce funding for the arts.

The crisis has hit the industry hard, and its future is far from certain.

“It’s not an easy challenge. New York, Paris and London have a lot of fire power,” said Mario Boselli, head of the Italian Chamber of Fashion.

“Our only exit strategy is excellence. But, for their part, public institutions and politicians have to support Made in Italy harder,” he said.

Gucci is set to kick off the fashion extravaganza, which will see 69 Italian and international brands — including two new arrivals — strutting on runways in a week of shows, boutique openings, cocktail presentations and parties.

Frankie Morello, Alberta Ferretti and No.21 follow on Wednesday, opening a packed schedule with overlaps in time slots bound to cause logistical problems for fashionistas and reportedly sparking heated spats between top designers.

Thursday’s star is Prada, followed by cheeky Canadian twins Dan and Dean for DSquared2, while Moschino, Etro and the glamorous Versace show on Friday.

Saturday opens with German designer Tomas Maier, who will unveil his latest creations for Bottega Veneta, followed by Roberto Cavalli and Jil Sander with her second collection since rejoining the label as creative director last year.

Sunday — the day Italians will begin flocking to the polls for the election vote — sees big hitters Emporio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana take to the catwalks, as well as Missoni, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

Fashion week closes it doors with John Richmond, Giorgio Armani and Gianfranco Ferre on Monday, with Tuesday dedicated to up-and-coming or new designers, including Japan’s Ryuya Ohishi and Spanish-born Miguel Garcia Abad.

Despite frantic pre-show preparations taking place across the city, where industrial warehouses are being transformed into luxurious catwalk hubs and champagne is uncorked, the latest data reveals the extent of the crisis.

The industry’s turnover was an estimated 60 billion euros ($80 million) in 2012 according to the Chamber of Fashion, down 5.0 percent compared to 2011.

“We’re back to 2010’s level, but bearing in mind the extent of the crisis, that’s not so bad. It means the system held up,” Boselli said.

Despite the gloom in Milan, most big names have managed to save their skins.

The savvy houses have been focusing their efforts on expansion abroad — particularly in economic powerhouses such as China and Brazil — and some, such as Bottega Veneta, are reportedly powering ahead with further store openings.

Revenue from Asian sales in particular have seen a boom in profits posted by brands such as Roberto Cavalli and the exclusive Prada, which celebrated a 29 percent increase in profits in 2012 compared to the previous year.

Those not big enough to launch in Asia must battle it out for recognition in Italy — and this week will tell whether they have enough to wow the critics.

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