MILAN (Reuters) - Fashion followers may be opting for more toned creations in the context of global economic woes but they still want novelty in their wardrobes, industry experts at Milan's menswear fashion week said.
Luxury brands have not been spared by the credit crunch, with bankers and hedge fund managers unlikely to splurge on luxurious items while the financial sector is hurting.
Recession fears are also curbing the enthusiasm of younger, aspirational shoppers whose rising incomes and love for designer items have buoyed luxury goods companies for years.
"There has been a very big change, there has never been such a fast change (in fashion consumption)," Salvatore Ferragamo Chief Executive Michele Norsa told Reuters after the brand's Autumn/Winter 2009/2010 menswear catwalk show.
"The positive aspect is that people still want to buy, you can see that every day on the street .. at outlets ... There is more attention paid to value, a product that lasts, brands ... There is attention to price."
Ferragamo presented a soft-touch collection with cardigan coats, cashmere double-breasted jackets and long-johns in natural colors. Leather items were soft and unstructured.
"For sure it is the work suit, the one that makes you think of banks, that is suffering the most at this time. Instead people will surely dress in a more relaxed way," Norsa said.
Massimo Ferretti, chairman of fashion holding Aeffe, also said consumers were more attentive to prices.
"Creativity and quality are important (for people) but not too flashy," he told Reuters at the Moschino show.
Designers have said the crisis remains firmly on their minds, staying away from excess, preferring more sober items.
"I think it's becoming more thoughtful, I think everything is becoming more thoughtful," Burberry Creative Director Christopher Bailey said when asked about consumption changes.
His collection, described as "modern nostalgia," showed large black and grey coats over dark skinny trousers.
"I don't want to start saying there are major shifts one way or major shifts the other way, but I just think people will think a little more maybe," Bailey said.
On the buyers' side, many said customers wanted creativity and quality.
"Our customers are still looking for special and unique merchandise and will continue to desire key trends that update and enhance their wardrobes," Colby McWilliams, of upscale retailer Neiman Marcus, said.
One European buyer, who declined to be named, said his customers wanted a "refined, modern look without any excesses."
"The context is not favorable but that does not mean we should stop working on offering something new and different."
Italian designer Roberto Cavalli, who counts the Spice Girls as his fans, said women in particular still wanted new items.
"There is still the desire for something new and to overcome the crisis you need great novelty, mainly in womenswear. Men don't want to change much," he said. "A woman can continue to buy at high prices but she wants something different."
Italy's National Chamber of Fashion said last week it expected turnover for Italy's fashion industry to fall 5 percent this year to 63.2 billion euros ($84.08 billion) but added the context could change because of the uncertain atmosphere.
Norsa said companies needed to know how to adapt to the change in the economic climate.
"I think at this time companies' capacity to react rapidly -- at the cost level, the image, the product ... and also to know how to interpret ... the mood of people who want something simple not excess -- this is fundamental at all levels," he said. "And it allows success for the more intelligent companies."
Additional reporting by Cristina Carlevaro, editing by Paul Casciato