MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Milan took over the baton for the next leg of the fashion season on Wednesday, kicking off eight days of catwalk shows and presentations, despite a last-minute shuffling of slots that threw organizers into a fluster.
After the catwalk runs in New York and London, Milan is playing host to 97 fashion shows and 93 presentations between September 23 and 30, with designers eager to lift the economic gloom with their womenswear for spring/summer 2010.
However, top names such as Giorgio Armani, Prada, Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Bottega Veneta and Dolce & Gabbana are all squeezed into the central four days.
Last-minute shuffling of slots -- as the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur falls on September 28 -- meant the Milan fashion week official calendar was only finalized last week.
Observers say most of the international press converging on the northern Italian city is expected to conclude coverage of Milan on Sunday, given a slim schedule on the rest of the days.
"We thought that the market difficulties, the fall in sales would have induced designers to find agreement, instead it has pushed everyone to defend their own interests," Mario Boselli, chairman of Italy's National Chamber of Fashion, was quoted as saying in media reports.
The lackluster economic backdrop has sapped demand for expensive designer clothes, shoes and handbags and a weak U.S. dollar against the euro is also likely to cause U.S. buyers to take a tough line on prices.
Turnover of Italy's fashion sector is seen falling around 6 percent to just over 60 billion euros ($88.6 billion) this year, but Boselli has spoken of "small signals of recovery."
In the last few seasons, some brands had preferred a presentation to a catwalk run in order to cut costs. Major houses such as Prada, Armani and Versace have two shows -- one for buyers and one for the press.
"The clothes need a soul, (the model) brings the outfit alive -- on its own it would not be able to give the right message. Even the music, makeup and the hair are important," celebrity favorite designer Donatella Versace told an Italian newspaper this week.
But she also hinted at fashion week calendar issues.
"Maybe there is still the problem with the calendar -- I have to say that in Italy we are ... very disorganized."
The fashion pack is also expected to party at various events organized in the city this week. Pop singer Janet Jackson will chair a benefit for AIDS research on Monday.
Wednesday's highlights included up-and-coming designers showing their creations and labels Pin Up Stars and Miss Bikini Luxe firing up the catwalk with boldly coloured and flowery bikinis.
Editing by Steve Addison