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MILAN (Reuters) - Designers have prepared a marathon of catwalk shows and gala openings to wow shoppers and woo their wallets at a Milan fashion week which starts on Wednesday amid winds of recession.
Top brands such as Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Prada and Salvatore Ferragamo are betting on next summer, a key season for fashion sales, to lure customers who are heading into a penny-pinching European autumn.
Austerity measures, a wild stock market and Italy's downgrade by Standard & Poor's are weighing on the mood of European consumers, even in robust economies such as Germany.
"This is our chance to react to the crisis," Mario Boselli, chairman of Italy's National Chamber of Fashion, said at the presentation of the Milan week, running until Tuesday.
The luxury industry is traditionally resilient to economic crises, as it caters to the wealthy. However, frills are not immune to downturns and groups such as Ferragamo have been reluctant to talk about growth.
"As the autumn begins, the most evident aspect of the current economic situation is the total uncertainty over the future," Italy's Chamber of Fashion said in a report on economic trends.
Fashion is a key contributor to the euro-zone's third largest economy. Italian brands are expected to generate total revenues of almost 63 billion euros ($87 billion) this year, according to the Chamber of Fashion. This is only 4 percent more than last year after Italy's fashion body halved its initial forecast.
A whirlwind of around 70 catwalk shows and 50 showroom presentations will not be the only attraction for thousands of buyers and fashion bloggers descending on Milan.
Ferragamo will launch its first jewelry collection on Wednesday, as investors fleeing nervous financial markets turn to gold as a safer bet.
As retail remains a revenue-spinner for luxury makers, Gucci, LVMH's Louis Vuitton and Italian designer Anna Molinari will open sparkling new stores in the heart of Milan's fashion district this week.
Tire maker Pirelli opened its first flagship store on Tuesday in the company of supermodel Naomi Campbell. The clothing collection features customised rubber-soled shoes for 340 euros.
At the other end of the retail chain, Missoni's first collection for U.S. discount department store Target sold out in many U.S. stores in the first week of launch.
Italian luxury will also flaunt its roots with Gucci opening a museum in Florence on Monday and Trussardi celebrating its 100th anniversary.
($1 = 0.725 Euros)
Reporting by Antonella Ciancio, editing by Paul Casciato