By  on June 16, 2009

MILAN — Italy’s fashion industry is thawing at last, according to the country’s Chamber of Fashion, following the “frost” that numbed the industry in 2008.

“While 2009 started off in the worst possible way, the past two months revealed better-than-expected retail sales, boosted by early summer weather and a newfound shopping drive,” said Mario Boselli, head of the chamber, during a presentation Monday of Milan’s four-day Men’s Fashion Week, which kicks off Saturday.

Boselli said the industry has been hit by a “U-shaped crisis, with an unimaginable and dramatic drop, and not comparable to any other period,” and, although not optimistic yet, he said there are some positive signs, such as sales of raw materials picking up and a 1.1 percent increase in industrial production.

Nonetheless, sales are expected to drop 3 percent in the second half of the year and 6.5 percent for 2009 to 62.17 billion euros, or $87.04 billion at current exchange. Boselli was cautious even about these numbers, however, saying they bar any “new negative surprises,” such as a steep rise in raw materials prices or the strengthening of the euro.

In 2008, the industry’s turnover slid 4 percent to 66.49 billion euros, or $97.74 billion at average exchange, for the period.

Exports in 2009 are expected to drop 5.5 percent to 38.1 billion euros, or $53.45 billion. In the first quarter, exports dropped 16.2 percent to 8.9 billion euros, or $12.4 billion. Russia, the U.S. and Japan showed signs of weakness, as shipments of apparel to Russia and the U.S. dropped 20.6 and 28.4 percent, respectively, and fell 15.8 percent to Japan.

Small and medium-size companies are “at risk” in the recession because of their “fragile and indebted structures,” Boselli warned. In April, the Italian government approved 1.6 billion euros, or $2.1 billion at current exchange, for small- and medium-size Italian companies to assist them in obtaining “credit lines to boost exports [and] further resources for companies that are part of the textile-fashion-footwear districts.”

In reference to the upcoming men’s fashion week, Boselli said he was satisfied with the number of collections showing in Milan, which will be 93 compared with 81 during January’s edition. After several seasons, Dolce & Gabbana and D&G are back on the calendar, on Saturday and June 23, respectively.

Ermenegildo Zegna will kick off and close the week with the signature brand showing on Saturday and Z Zegna on June 23. “Z Zegna has grown under[creative director] Alessandro Sartori and developed from its original young and innovative soul,” said image director Anna Zegna, explaining the decision to move the company’s sportswear collection to Milan after showing in New York for three seasons.

Marc Jacobs is a new name on the calendar, with all-day presentations by appointment June 22 and 23. This marks the designer’s new license with Staff International, but Jacobs is not expected to be present in the showroom. Other new brands on the calendar include Caruso, Romeo Gigli’s Io Ipse Idem, Jeckerson and Nero Perla.

Giorgio Armani and Prada are the only brands holding two shows, on Saturday and Monday, respectively.

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