Byline: Sara Gay Forden, with contributions from Kristen Schelter

MILAN — For Italian businesses caught up in an economic maelstrom, a weak lira may become a source of strength.
As the fall collections get underway here this weekend, export-minded fashion executives are upbeat, projecting healthy increases.
They expect figures to be boosted in large part by the chronic weakness of the lira against the dollar and especially the German mark, or what is being called the “Super Marco” here.
Exports aside, Italy’s problems are far from over. Financial markets are already jittery over the nation’s ballooning budget deficit, and market gurus are stoking the flame by comparing Italy’s financial problems to those of Mexico.
Earlier this week, the Italian currency fell almost 4 percent against the mark, the largest single fall since the Bank of Italy devalued the lira and pulled it out of the European Monetary System in September 1992.
Valentino ceo Giancarlo Giammetti called the exchange rate benefit “a false advantage” for the fashion houses, despite the fact that he is expecting “an export boom,” partly as a result of the growing competitiveness of high-end Italian products in foreign markets. The lira is currently trading at around 1,670 lire to the dollar and at 1,147 lire to the mark.
“Everything that is just relative to the changing value of currencies is something I am skeptical about,” Giammetti said. “You don’t feel the exact pulse of the market or of your product,” he added.
“Growth will be largely due to the devaluation of the lira,” said Ippolito Etro, the elder son of founder Girolamo Etro and administrative director of Etro, the family firm. “This is giving us a tremendous boost in markets that are new for us, such as the U.S.,” Etro said, noting that he is projecting a sales increase of 15 to 20 percent for fall ’95 over that season last year.
Santo Versace, Gianni Versace’s brother and ceo of the family-owned fashion house, said he expects the wholesale volume of Versace’s first line to increase by about 30 percent in the fall ’95 season over the year before, in line with pre-collection sales. “Clearly, the lira has a positive impact on exports. It is enabling the Italian firms to recoup profit margins that had been squeezed,” he said. He added that the firm will open a 4,300-square-foot shop on Sloane Street in London for the Istante line. Yet the advantage for Italian firms on the export side turns into a double-edged sword on the investment side, especially when it comes to creating foreign distribution networks through company-owned stores and showrooms. And those are strategic investments the Italian houses are finding crucial to the successful positioning of their products in foreign markets. “Opening stores is a strategy that all the fashion houses are pursuing. Having a network of stores is key,” said Valentino’s Giammetti. “But at this point, even restructuring existing stores becomes prohibitively expensive,” he added, noting that the house of Valentino was refurbishing shops in Munich and Monte Carlo.
Etro, which is in the process of constructing a six-story building at 720 Madison Avenue in New York to house all of its collections, managed to pay off its investment just in time, according to Ippolito Etro. “Thank goodness we just finished paying for the building,” he said. “The weak lira will make it more difficult to invest in new markets.”
Those problems, however, have not deterred Italian designers, and there will be a variety of new faces, parties and more shows during the week.
As reported, Mariuccia Mandelli is celebrating Krizia’s 40th anniversary full-tilt, with cocktails for 1,000 at Milan’s La Triennale exhibition hall and a Krizia retrospective of 250 looks chosen by Oscar-winning costume designer Gabriella Pescucci. The exhibit will also be accompanied by a book, published by Leonardo Arte, written by Isa Vercelloni and designed by Carla Sozzani.
Anna Molinari is abandoning the Milan fairgrounds because she wants “a more personal spot” to present her sassy signature collection. She has rented a villa in downtown Milan where she will hold two shows on Monday. Isabella Rossellini has agreed to appear, along with a cast of Italian actresses.
Thirty-three-year-old Japanese designer Junichi Hakamaki, a graduate of the Parsons School of Design and a veteran of such top companies as Calvin Klein, Ferragamo and Gucci, is launching his first collection in a quick 8-minute show on Tuesday in the Daylight Studio at Superstudio. The small group of jackets, coats, pants and skirts, most in black, features sleek, body-hugging shapes.
Hakamaki also brings East and West together with his one-of-a-kind jeans made from the fabric panels of ceremonial kimonos. “In Japan they would kill me. It would be seen as a very rebellious thing,” said Hakamaki. “I am Japanese, yet I live and work in the Western world — this is my way of bringing those two worlds together.”
Men’s wear producer Cantarelli & C. will give its first women’s presentations Saturday and Sunday. “We had developed an excellent clientele with our men’s collections, so it seemed natural to go into women’s apparel,” said Rita Cantarelli, who designs the women’s line. Her inspiration for this collection? An “intellectually chic” woman, she said, mentioning Virginia Woolf, Lauren Bacall, and “the golden Fifties” as inspirations. Aliviero Martini’s Prima Classe accessory company, known for its trademark map prints, is adding a new apparel line Martini calls “Il Guardaroba,” or “The Wardrobe.” The collection, produced by the Maglifico di Vignola, consists of 170 pieces, including the di Vignola specialty, knitwear.