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Firebirds lit up the runway at the Gucci show kicking off Milan fashion week Wednesday, as the industry awaits a weekend general election that could determine the future of "Made in Italy".
As Italy's top luxury labels show off their autumn-winter 2013 collections to global fashionistas, Italians will flock to the polls on Sunday and Monday to elect a new government.
At the Gucci show, there was no sense of the crisis which has hit the Italian fashion industry hard.
The evening wear featured a luxurious play of feathers and ferns on netting that evoked the flames of firebirds.
The atmosphere, designer Frida Giannini said, was noir and fetish -- and leather, python and metallic sheens dominated the daywear collection, with tightly fitting outfits paired with fishnet tights with a back seam and towering heels.
"The Gucci woman... is steely yet sexy, defining her discipline with femme fatale vices," said Giannini, describing a collection which hinged on sculptured small jackets, bustiers and pencil skirts, with leather lock cuffs.
Colours were blacks and greys, brought alive by burnt oranges, wine purples and gorgeous cerulean patterns set against midnight-blue backgrounds.
A forest-green suit jacket pulled in sharply at the waist and worn over a metallic roll-neck stood out, as did the knee-high python leather boots.
Frankie Morello and Alberta Ferretti follow on Wednesday, while Prada and Canadian twins Dan and Dean for DSquared2 take to the catwalks Thursday.
Moschino, Etro and the glamorous Versace show on Friday, while Saturday it is the turn of Bottega Veneta, Roberto Cavalli and Jil Sander, with her second collection since rejoining the label as creative director last year.
Sunday sees big hitters Emporio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana unveil shows, as well as Missoni, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and fashion week closes it doors with John Richmond and Giorgio Armani on Monday.
The economic crisis has hit Italy's fashion sector.
"It's not an easy challenge. New York, Paris and London have a lot of fire power," said Mario Boselli, head of the Italian Chamber of Fashion.
"Our only exit strategy is excellence. But, for their part, public institutions and politicians have to support Made in Italy harder," he said.
Despite frantic pre-show preparations across the city, where industrial warehouses are being transformed into luxurious catwalk hubs, the latest data reveals the extent of the crisis -- though many hope the worst may now be over.
The industry's turnover was an estimated 60 billion euros ($80 billion) in 2012 according to the Chamber of Fashion, down 5.0 percent from 2011.
"We're back to the 2010 level, but bearing in mind the extent of the crisis, that's not so bad. It means the system held up," Boselli said.
"We think the first half of 2013 will not be particularly brilliant, but we are confident of a recovery from autumn on," he said.
Data from Italy's textile and fashion body Sistema Moda Italia (SMI) showed foreign markets are expected to continue producing most of the revenue, with exports, in value terms, expected to reach new record levels since 2000.
"These forecasts are based on a scenario that there will be no fiscal shocks in 2013 and the government to be named after the election will couple fiscal austerity with measures to boost spending," SMI said.
Fashion mixed with politics at Milan's cathedral Tuesday, where the populist Five Star Movement -- currently third in the election race -- drew 40,000 people to a rally also attended by Russian models due on catwalks this week.
Also overshadowing fashion week this year is the run-up to the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, who will celebrate his last Sunday prayers in St Peter's Square on Sunday.