MILAN — Reacting to the truncated, four-day week in February, Milan Fashion Week gets under way today with one of the longest calendars in years, opening with Gucci and closing with the Giorgio Armani show on Sept. 27.
To try to revise the schedule, the Italian Chamber of Fashion nixed a dozen brands from the official program, from innerwear-beachwear line Kristina Ti to designer Enrico Coveri and plus-size label Elena Mirò.
Many shows will move to spaces on streets surrounding the city’s cathedral, away from the Fashion Milano Center venue. As a result, there have been grumbling about possible traffic jams, given the location of the pedestrian-only areas designated for the shows.
Still, Mario Boselli, head of the Chamber, remained “upbeat.”
“We had to trim the schedule and redesign it,” he said, “going back to a calendar that is representative of the best, highest designer ready-to-wear.”
As for the new spaces, which range from the 13th-century Loggia dei Mercanti to the stately 17th-century Palazzo Clerici, Boselli said they’re all within “a few minutes walking distance.” That said, designers and brands such as Giorgio Armani, Versace and Salvatore Ferragamo continue to show at their own palazzos or staple locations throughout the city, like the Bourse, which will make driving a necessity.
The general economic picture this season is also vastly different from a year ago. Tourism here is brisk again, stores are opening once more and business is picking up.
According to data provided by the Chamber, the fashion industry is expected to close 2010 with sales of 60.2 billion euros, or $78.7 billion at current exchange, up 6.5 percent from last year. Exports are foreseen to rise 7.1 percent to 35.2 billion euros, or $46 billion, in 2010 compared to 2009. Boselli, however, was cautious, saying that things are picking up but “not fast enough and not in a strong enough way. The purpose of Milano Moda Donna is to accelerate and restore this recovery.”
Currency fluctuations are also a strong element to be considered, said the Chamber, which expects the American dollar to be less strong until the middle of next year.
Armando Branchini, vice president of Milan-based consulting firm Intercorporate, said luxury goods association Altagamma reported a growth of around 20 percent in the first half of the year and more gains are expected in 2011, driven especially by emerging markets.
Branchini said established markets account for about 60 to 65 percent of the luxury goods business, but claimed that, over the next 10 years, they will account for half of it, with emerging markets gaining share. Globally, sales of luxury goods totaled 160 billion euros, or $210 billion, up 10 percent this year, and Branchini estimates sales will amount to 300 billion euros, or $392 billion, in 2020.
“Companies started opening stores again in 2010 and I am sure that this will pick up significantly in 2011,” said Branchini, noting that Italian brands have also been expanding in niche countries that were once overlooked. For example, last year, Ermenegildo Zegna and Louis Vuitton opened in Mongolia, followed by Emporio Armani, Burberry, Ferragamo and Versace. “It’s important to get there as pioneers and build your brand,” said Branchini.
John Hooks, deputy chairman of Giorgio Armani SpA, said that, despite the economy, the company “always stuck to its schedule,” opening stores globally to consolidate its core markets and explore emerging ones. A store is scheduled to open in October in Mumbai, while two stores opened in Manchester, U.K., this month. “I’ve seen many more tourists in Milan, from the Middle East, China, Russia. I feel it’s busier than usual and Italy is doing well.”
He also praised the longer fashion week this season, saying it is “important for the Italian fashion system and for young designers to show properly.”
Hooks struck a positive note: “Things are getting better, there is more optimism, and we’ve seen a good first half, very different from the first half last year, but we are still feeling our way.”
Michele Norsa, chief executive officer of Salvatore Ferragamo SpA, also noted that a weaker European currency has helped boost tourism in Milan. “The fashion industry is more dynamic than others, and business has picked up faster and more solidly than expected,” he said. He also remarked on the growth rate of the Chinese market, which is “close to becoming our number one.”
Norsa said Ferragamo produces in Italy, and this continues to be a strong draw for Asian customers. “It’s very important for them — they check the labels, they want to be informed.”
Italy has been vying for stricter regulations concerning the “Made in Italy” label, and Santo Versace, chairman of the family-owned company and a member of Parliament, has drafted a regulation on the subject, the Reguzzoni-Versace law that has been approved by the Italian Parliament but stalled by the European Community.
“The European Parliament should deliberate on this,” Versace stressed. “While Russia, Japan or the U.S. each have one single president, Europe has 27, one for each country that makes up the community, and Italy as a single country cannot decide on this law,” which states that at least two steps out of four in the production chain should take place in Italy in order for a product to display a such a label.
As a manufacturing country, Italy has historically been at odds with Northern European nations, which are distributors and traders rather than producers, and import massively from lower-cost countries in Asia. As one analyst put it, “Those midtier department stores leverage on the uncertainty connected to the origin of a product,” as Europe does not demand transparency on production.
Versace said he stands behind the idea that European importers should know where merchandise comes from. “We are asking Europe to allow consumers to be informed and protected in terms of health standards, for example,” he said.
However, some believe political issues are at stake as this law is strongly supported by weavers and textile manufacturers in Northern Italy and the Lega Nord party, which has been clamoring for a federal state for years. One analyst said, “With this regulation, those who produce in China are at least obliged to buy Italian materials to obtain a ‘Made in Italy’ label, but that’s to the detriment of other steps in the production pipeline.”
Massimo Ferretti, executive chairman of Aeffe SpA, which produces and distributes collections for Alberta Ferretti, Moschino, Jean Paul Gaultier, Cacharel and Pollini, conceded a regulation on the matter would be welcome, but that a designer brand is also a guarantee for customers.