MILAN (Reuters) - Prime Minister Matteo Renzi kicked off a showpiece Milan trade fair promoting modern Italian design on Tuesday, hailing it as a symbol of potential economic recovery in a country battered and discouraged by years of recession.
"We are not just talking about stuff for hipsters here, we are talking about a piece of the Italian economy today and even more importantly tomorrow," Renzi said on the first day of Milan's week-long international design fair.
The event, which comes ahead of the Milan Expo opening on May 1, is the latest in a string of cheerleading attempts by the 40-year-old premier to convince Italians and foreigners that Italy is beginning to rebound after years of economic decline.
Renzi has proposed a series of economic reforms, including to the labor market, that he says will put a new face on Italy and he is making a major push to shake off the image of stagnation and decline that has clung to the country.
The economic reality is expected to improve, but from a low base. The government and key international observers forecast negligible growth of under one percentage point this year, after a 9 percent contraction between 2007 and 2014.
The design fair brings well-heeled crowds out to parties on the cobbled streets and in the high-end shops of Milan's "Golden Quadrangle" district.
Italy's high-end consumer goods sector, covering fashion to furniture, weathered the global economic downturn better than most others, largely thanks to continued demand from abroad as the domestic market weakened.
"Globalization is the biggest asset Italians have today and will have for the next 20 years. Globalization means loads of people clamoring for Italy, for beauty, quality," Renzi said.
Furniture maker Cassina, fashion and interior designer Missoni and carmaker Fiat, whose affordable cars symbolized Italy's post-war economic boom, are hosting events at the Milan design fair, according to Vogue magazine.
Reporting by Isla Binnie in Rome and Stefano Rellandini in Milan; Editing by Gareth Jones