MILAN — A united front is essential in the face of a difficult economy, according to Fondazione Altagamma. The Italian association of luxury goods companies presented its three-year plan Friday with the goal of strengthening its competitive edge and bringing luster back to Milan and Italy through the excellence of the country’s brands.

This story first appeared in the April 22, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In his first address to the press, the association’s newly elected chairman, Andrea Illy, chairman and chief executive of coffee producer Illycaffé SpA, shared his program, which he said was approved by the association even before his candidacy. “Cooperate to be more competitive,” he urged. “Our mission is to be ambassadors of excellence in different sectors and lifestyle.” Illy outlined a partnership project between Altagamma and the government, leveraging the strength of the association’s companies and their business models, as well as their constant growth in exports compared with Italy’s decreasing gross domestic product. “The Altagamma brands have a leading effect, they create demand and this trickles down,” said Illy.

High on the agenda is a proposal to the government of a tax reduction on profits companies reinvest in Italy in the process of internationalization.

Altagamma has identified the “need to create a new Italian luxury holding that should exist not to buy companies but to create as many investments as possible in Altagamma in retail,” said Illy. The holding would be supported by investment funds and financial entities — even perhaps the Milan Stock Exchange — and Italy’s Fondo Strategico Italiano. Fondo Strategico Italiano is a holding company controlled by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, or CDP, a joint-stock company under public control that in November signed an agreement with Qatar Holding to invest in Italian brands in different sectors.

The intent is also to cordon off Italian companies, which are increasingly at a crossroads as they face either a generational change in ownership or management or limited access to credit or liquidity. The recent takeover of Italian brands such as Bulgari and Brioni, now respectively controlled by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering, formerly known as PPR, was met with reluctance and controversy by Italian media.

Without providing details, Illy said the luxury holding project has been strongly endorsed by the financial world and the members of the association, and that it would take shape “as soon as possible.”

Asked if there were guidelines in determining the financial investors, Armando Branchini, newly elected executive director, said the only requirement is for these entities to underwrite the project and its protocol.

Like the changes taking place within Italy’s Chamber of Fashion, whose members are working to relaunch Milan Fashion Week, Altagamma has teamed up with the Chamber; Cosmit, the association that organizes the Salone del Mobile furniture and design trade show; the organizers of Expo 2015, and other top industry bodies in its promotional activities. “It’s peer-to-peer, we are working with a common purpose,” underscored Illy, who also pointed to the possible creation of a first Altagamma museum.

The association is also working with the city of Milan on developing the historic shopping and promenade arcade Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, where Prada is opening its second store, opposite Louis Vuitton, near a new Giorgio Armani venue to open soon, and where Versace also plans to open a second unit in addition to its Via Montenapoleone one.

“We want to make it the most beautiful shopping gallery in the world,” said Illy. A previous Altagamma project with the city fell through, and Branchini explained, “We want to see if the city will accept a 99-year concession rather than a sale of 49 percent [of its assets].”

The Altagamma “Italian Contemporary Excellence” 20-year celebration and exhibition, recently held at the Triennale museum in Milan, is set to travel to Shanghai and will be unveiled there on April 29.