MILAN A shrinking show calendar, currency volatility and macro economic issues at the tail end of a period of local political instability following Italy’s general elections were only some of the concerns weighing on executives on the eve of Milan Men’s Fashion Week.

But on the upside, business is chugging along steadily. Revenues generated by the fashion sector last year grew 2.5 percent to 64.8 billion euros, and exports rose 4.3 percent to 50 billion euros, according to Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana’s Fashion Economic Trends report issued in May. The first half is expected to show 1.5 percent growth in sales compared with the same period last year. Last week, the updated Altagamma Worldwide Market Monitor and Bain & Co. study painted a pretty picture, as the global personal luxury goods industry is expected to grow 6 to 8 percent at constant exchange compared with the 5 percent growth forecast last October for 2018.

“Everyone is hoping to see a modicum of stability, which would allow us to set goals in the medium-term, invest in three-year plans without this sense of anxiety hovering over us,” said Paolo Roviera, chief executive officer of Corneliani. Roviera admitted that business had been affected in the first months of the year by political tensions globally, a decrease in tourist traffic, curbed domestic spending and volatile markets. The silver lining, he said, was that the company has seen higher average ticket spending and increased profitability.

Corneliani is once again dropping out of the Milan calendar, opting for Pitti Uomo because the format of the Florence-based trade show is “better suited” for the brand and “more in line” with the label’s segment, said Roviera, who believes Milan Men’s Fashion Week should merge with the city’s Design Week. “Why not? There are so many fashion brands already showing during [furniture and design show] Salone del Mobile.”

On the other hand, Gianluca Isaia, ceo of Isaia, believes Milan still has a lot of potential. Admitting more could be done to recover some of the luster it had in the Eighties, Isaia believes in the past two years Milan has become “active and beautiful to live and work in.” The brand will present the spring collection at the newly opened Cracco restaurant in luxury shopping arcade Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on June 17.

While the company will open a store in London on Conduit Street by the end of the year, Isaia is investing in Italy, unveiling its first boutique in Rome earlier this month, and expanding its manufacturing capability by 48,600 square feet in Casalnuovo di Napoli, where it is headquartered. “The last phase [comprising 21,600 square feet] will be completed within 30 days,” said Isaia. “This will allow us to control quality on all product categories and improve customer service as we can offer made-to-order on everything, from ties and denim to polos and knits and not only suits and shirts,” he explained.

He said the tailored men’s wear group, which is privately owned by the namesake family, has been working to expand its sportswear division for a few seasons now, growing it to represent 25 percent of total sales. “It will probably account for 35 to 40 percent in two or three years,” said the executive. “This trend is not going away, the luxury customer does not always want to wear a suit and wants precious items also when he is relaxed, so we invest in research to find special yarns or details. It’s not easy but we are seeing good results.”

Isaia also discussed the birth of the Fondazione Enrico Isaia e Maria Petillo and the establishment of a tailoring school that will be inaugurated at the end of September or early October. “It will be located partly within the company and partly in a newly renovated storied building in Casalnuovo, with the participation of the city.” The three-year course will begin with 20 students.

In Milan, there is one additional gap on the calendar this season, left by none other than Giorgio Armani, who has decided to hold his Emporio Armani show in a coed format in September during women’s fashion week. Another change is that the Emporio show will not take place at Armani’s theater on Via Bergognone, as per long-standing tradition, but in a still-undisclosed location, “in a special and unexpected venue,” said Armani. The designer’s signature men’s show, however, will be staged on June 18 at the theater.

Asked to comment on the switch, Armani said he was “excited about the interest that is evident in Emporio Armani at the moment, and the way in which the consumer is responding to it.” As reported, the designer last year said he was ceasing the Armani Collezioni and Armani Jeans brands and rethinking the group’s distribution of the Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani and A|X Armani Exchange labels.

“It has always been my intention for Emporio Armani to be a dynamic and contemporary collection for global youth, and so recently I have decided to give it some added exposure internationally.”  

The brand showed in London in September last year and in Paris in October 2016. In Milan in September, “the event will on the one hand emphasize the avant-garde and cross-cultural approach of the brand, and on the other, highlight the great energy of Milan, a city that I have always loved and supported, and that has no reason to envy any of the main European and international capitals,” said Armani.

Alberta Ferretti and Stella McCartney are also showing their love for Milan, bookending the week. Ferretti is showing her 2019 women’s resort and demi-couture limited-edition collection at the Royal Palace overlooking the Duomo cathedral on June 15, while McCartney is bringing her 2019 men’s spring and women’s resort collections on June 18 to the city.

Alessandro Dell’Acqua sees these as positive signals. While admitting that men’s fashion week “continues to be extremely reduced,” he said this edition “for the first time brings the women’s pre-collections on the runways together with the men’s collections.” Citing McCartney’s decision, Dell’Acqua said this “could be an interesting path for many brands that don’t have the power to hold pre-collection shows on the catwalks.”

The designer was upbeat about the “very satisfying” results of his men’s No. 21 division, which accounts for more than 10 percent of total sales, between ready-to-wear and accessories. Revenues for 2017 were not available at press time, but Dell’Acqua said No. 21 is growing, “especially in Asia, which will see an important retail development in China and Korea in the next two years.” The biggest No. 21 flagship will open in Korea at the end of August, a 3,240-square-foot store on two levels in Cheongdam, in the popular district of Gangnam in Seoul.

“We have seen a rebirth of the city of Milan in the past few years and MSGM and [founder and creative director] Massimo Giorgetti have greatly supported it,” said the brand’s ceo Roberta Benaglia, founder of Italian private equity firm Style Capital. The fund acquired 32 percent of MSGM Srl in February and the remaining 49 percent and 19 percent are controlled by manufacturer Manifattura Paoloni and Giorgetti, respectively.

“Surely the brand, leveraging its 100 percent made-in-Italy production, will continue to affirm its Milanese character. For the time being, we do not expect changes in our calendar, we will continue to show men’s in June and women’s in September and do to it in Milan,” she said.

But Benaglia conceded she and Giorgetti were “looking carefully” at brands that have decided to go coed or to move up the women’s collections in July, but she said she believed these were choices somehow “led by a need for renewal, which MSGM at the moment does not have.”

Italian production allows MSGM to be competitive in terms of lead time and timely deliveries after the show. “The desire to show men’s with women’s could also depend on the need to sustain a weaker collection with a stronger one,” said Benaglia. “I must say that the MSGM men’s line, which has finally found its specific identity for some seasons now, does not need to be dependent on the women’s collection for success. Our collections have their own strength and a totally independent clear message.” For these reasons, Benaglia sees no strategic business reasons to make changes. “We will evaluate things in the future, but exclusively in terms of design.”

The company expects 20 percent growth in 2018 and Benaglia highlighted the relevance of the opening in September of the first MSGM flagship in London, “a strategic market” for the brand. “The choice of the exclusive location with neighbors such as Acne, Stella McCartney, Golden Goose, Joseph and Chanel, helps our partners and Asian clients to better read the positioning of the brand,” said Benaglia.

MSGM also continues to expand its retail footprint in Asia with three openings in the second half of the year in addition to the five shop-in-shops in Korea. Four more openings are expected in China by spring 2019, up from the current three monobrand stores in the region. Indeed, Benaglia said Italy’s political uncertainties do not particularly affect MSGM, “a very international brand, with 75 percent of sales now” outside of the country.

China is a priority as well for Marni, which this year is developing its retail channel, opening four stores in prestigious malls in Guangzhou, Xian, Shanghai and Chongqing. But the U.S. continues to be a key market for the brand, which is now designed by Francesco Risso, after the exit of cofounder Consuelo Castiglioni in 2016. Coming up is a new flagship on New York’s Madison Avenue, following the recent opening of a pop-up store in the Hamptons that will operate until the end of the year. In April, the company unveiled a store in Florence, and in the second half there will be two important openings in Europe, in Rome in Via del Babuino and in Paris on Rue Saint Honorè.

Marni, which has been developing its men’s division and has collaborated with artists such as Frank Navin and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess, will hold its men’s show in a new venue on Via Pantano on June 16.

Marni owner OTB, which also controls the Diesel brand, has selected Milan to introduce the second Diesel Red Tag capsule, which is designed by Y/Project’s Glenn Martens, to be shown on June 16. The first capsule, designed by Shayne Oliver, was launched in Paris in March. The Diesel Black Gold line, designed by Andreas Melbostad, and a fixture on the city’s calendar since 2016, will now be presented to retailers and clients in its showroom.

Giovanni Mannucci, ceo of Pal Zileri, observed how “the classic product has lost energy, as the reference points for consumers are changing and elegance is changing.” He lamented how the shows have become “spectacles, with clothes that can’t be found in stores,” echoing Armani’s own frequent complaint about the system. “There is a total detachment of the message, branding and corporate, and I wonder how far can you push creativity. All this could have a deterring effect.”

It is not perhaps surprising then that Mannucci last year tapped Rocco Iannone, who worked in the men’s wear department of the Giorgio Armani Group for ten years, to helm Pal Zileri, which is controlled by the Qatar-based Mayhoola fund. With Iannone, Mannucci is rethinking Pal Zileri, maintaining its essence but “applying it to the current context,” tweaking the idea that the suit is only fit for work and a formal or evening event, with “the goal and ambition” to create suits “worn for pleasure.”

This will take time, he admitted, noting that the bespoke culture is taking on as an alternative. “How do I bring new clients? I want to give them individual space, breaking the rules about the number of buttons or the length of pants and so on, so that everyone can make choices to feel good. We are seeing very positive signals from our clients and believe we are on the right path, getting closer to customer expectations.”