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Milan fashion week kicks off with all eyes on election

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Italy's top luxury brands take to the catwalks for Milan fashion week Wednesday, as the industry awaits the result of a weekend general election that will determine the future of "Made in Italy".

As houses show off their hotly-awaited autumn-winter 2013 collections to global fashionistas, Italians will be flocking to the polls on Sunday and Monday to elect a new government.

The economic crisis has hit many in the Italian fashion industry hard, and its future is far from certain.

"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.

Gucci is set to kick off the fashion extravaganza, which will see 69 Italian and international brands strutting on runways in a week of shows, boutique openings, cocktail presentations and parties.

Frankie Morello, Alberta Ferretti and No.21 follow on Wednesday, opening a packed schedule with overlaps in some time slots bound to cause logistical problems for fashionistas and reportedly sparking heated spats between top designers.

Thursday's star is Prada, followed by cheeky Canadian twins Dan and Dean for DSquared2, while Moschino, Etro and the glamorous Versace on Friday.

Saturday opens with German designer Tomas Maier, who will unveil his latest creations for Bottega Veneta, followed by 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.

Fashion week closes it doors with John Richmond, Giorgio Armani and Gianfranco Ferre on Monday, with Tuesday dedicated to up-and-coming designers.

Greenpeace disrupted the start of fashion week early on Wednesday with a protest, hanging a long "green carpet" banner from the Castello Sforzesco, calling for red carpet brands to go green.

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 and Lithuanian models due on catwalks this week.

Despite frantic pre-show preparations taking place across the city, where industrial warehouses are being transformed into luxurious catwalk hubs, the latest data reveals the extent of the crisis.

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.

Despite the gloom in Milan, most big names have managed to save their skins.

The savvy houses have been focusing their efforts on expansion abroad -- particularly in economic powerhouses such as China and Brazil -- and some, such as Bottega Veneta, are reportedly powering ahead with further store openings.

Revenue from Asian sales in particular have seen a boom in profits posted by brands such as Roberto Cavalli and Prada, which celebrated a 29 percent increase in revenue in 2012.

Those not big enough to launch in Asia must battle for recognition in Italy -- and this week will tell whether up-and-coming designers also taking part in fashion week have enough to wow the critics.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130220/milan-fashion-week-kicks-all-eyes-election