ROME: Milan fashion week will open Wednesday on an apprehensive note amid poor sector results and calls for Italy's top designer brands to overcome rivalries and pull together to beat the economic crisis.
While the fashion industry has largely defied the crisis due to demand from emerging markets, revenue is down and an air of gloom in the recession-hit country appears to have spread to fashion, where tempers are beginning to fray.
Last week the fashion sector forecast a 5.6-percent drop in revenue for 2012 to 60.2 billion euros ($79 billion), down from an earlier 5.2-percent estimate - data described by the National Chamber of Fashion as “not very reassuring.”
The atmosphere was summed up by designer Roberto Cavalli's outburst on his blog last week, in which he accused the National Chamber of Fashion, which organises the fashion week, of failing to support Italy's lesser-known brands.
He slammed the chamber for allowing “Little King” Armani to change cat-walk slots from Monday to Sunday, leaving him in the lurch; as the only top label to show on the closing day, he fears journalists and buyers will leave early.
“Cavalli has always been a member of the chamber. I think that Armani is a member too, but his every choice is perceived as an order! The National Chamber supports only top names, giving small companies what's left,” he said.
Sixty-eight fashion houses take their spring-summer 2013 collections to the catwalks in palaces, monuments and parks across the city until Tuesday.
The show opens its doors with Gucci on Wednesday, followed by Prada on Thursday, Versace and Etro on Friday, Jil Sander and Fendi on Saturday, Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana on Sunday and Roberto Cavalli on Monday.
Fashion houses have depended during the crisis on a huge demand from China - currently the world's third-biggest market for personal luxury goods - and the industry is also pinning its hopes on India, where growth is accelerating.
Italian luxury brand Prada recently reported first-half 2012 sales up by 36.5 per cent thanks largely to sales in Asia, and many fashion houses are being helped by Asian shoppers coming over to buy the latest shoes or bags in-house.
But British fashion house Burberry shocked the sector last week by reporting its worst same-store sales figures since the start of financial crisis, raising fears that a slowdown of growth in China will strip the industry of its edge.
The company warned of problems with the entire luxury industry and its announcement sparked a wave of uncertainty throughout the global fashion world.
At a recent Fashion Global Summit in Milan, Italy's luxury giants said they also faced difficulties expanding in China, where they face high import taxes.
The National Chamber of Fashion's head, Mario Boselli, said last week that “China, in spite of a few problems, is still a very attractive market.”He insisted however that “support from the institutions, help from both the public and private sector, is needed” to keep Made in Italy competitive.
The appeal was echoed by Silvio Albini, head of the international textile association Milano Unica, who called on Prime Minister Mario Monti not to overlook the sector in his battle to save Italy from the financial crisis.
“You know very well the problems which weigh on the industry: excessive taxation, high production costs, difficulty in financing the non-stop need to innovate, bureaucracy... We need to know (you) are behind us”, Albini said.
In June, designer Giorgio Armani spoke of his frustration over efforts to revitalise the indebted country and the knock-on effect on the cultural sector.
“We are no longer happy in our Italy. I think we are heading towards a dangerous situation. Sometimes I consider leaving the country,” he said.
Albini called on the fashion houses and their flamboyant leaders to put aside long-standing jealousies and competitiveness and “team up. Because the challenges we face will be overcome through teamwork, not individually.”