MILAN (Reuters) - Fashion designers poured gold onto the Milan catwalks this week with collections rich in metallic finishes and designed to appeal to buyers who are keeping the luxury industry afloat in austere times.
Luxury goods firms at Milan fashion week were reluctant to discuss growth in 2012, but said surging demand from emerging market countries such as China could help the industry ride out any recession which arises from the current Euro zone crisis and a global economic malaise.
"I cannot make forecasts for next year given the current economic situation," Michele Norsa, chief executive of shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo told Reuters before a show at Milan's stock exchange, where the group listed in June.
Fashion doyen Giorgio Armani's catwalk collection displayed thin trousers underneath longer dresses, a layered look that some experts said could be targeted at women from the Middle East and China.
"Many houses are pinning their hopes on geographies that they weren't even operating in 10 years ago," James Lawson, director of international luxury market research specialists Ledbury Research, told Reuters. "Asia, for example, accounts for about half of the recent growth in the industry," he said.
The fashion industry, a key contributor to Italy's economy, is expected to generate almost 63 billion euros ($86 billion)this year, up only 4 percent from 2010 after Italy's Chamber of Fashion halved its forecasts. However, demand for Italian quality remains high among Asian customers, experts said.
"The Chinese love our style," Chamber of Fashion President Mario Boselli said at the launch of luxury label Gucci's new museum in Florence.
Armani's spring/summer 2012 collection also offered soft jackets employing a tiny concealed hook to hold them closed and sheer evening dresses embroidered with minute translucent crystals like drops of water.
"Women can be romantic, but also strong," Armani said after his show.
Hem lengths were short at Versace and Roberto Cavalli, but longer at Prada and Armani, pleats appeared at a number of shows and themes such as Art Deco and Bauhaus waltzed through some of the collections.
Designer Miuccia Prada struck a more traditional and soft conservative note for women with round-shouldered coats bearing woolly roses and gave a nod to the 1950s with automobile prints on coats, skirts, and dresses twinned with heels bearing hot rod flame designs.
"I wanted a sweet woman for next summer," Prada told Reuters backstage at her show.
Donatella Versace used studs on neoprene short dresses, while sculpted jackets were paired with shorts and high wedge heels. Jersey dresses had pleats and crystals.
Gucci designer Frida Giannini marked the 90th anniversary of the brand with a tribute to Art Deco, a motif also seen at Cavalli. Giannini brought 1920s "Charleston" dresses with lame fringes to the catwalk mixed with zebra or tiger prints.
Cavalli's collection also took its inspiration from Art Deco and Germany's Bauhaus movement for a glittering show, where gold dominated the catwalk. Slim-fitting gilets had padded shoulders, while skirts in animal or floral prints were trimmed with silk.
Designer Massimiliano Giornetti created sandals with gilt soles for Ferragamo and paired them with silk dresses in animal prints draped at the waist, while Bottega Veneta creative director Tomas Maier showed off a layered look which altered the silhouettes of dresses. ($1 = 0.733 Euros)
Reporting by Antonella Ciancio