Dark looks rule the Milan catwalks for autumn/winter season
* Black returns at Gucci, Armani, Cavalli
* Neoprene, vinyl, patent leather at Milan fashion week
* Paris takes baton for last leg of autumn/winter season
MILAN, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Fashion designers at Milan fashion week delivered a dark palette and masculine styles for autumn-winter wardrobes in a reflection of Italy's bleak economic and political landscape.
Giorgio Armani, Gucci and Roberto Cavalli were among the fashion houses whose darkly coloured catwalk collections for the 2013-14 autumn/winter season catwalk shows evoked the anxiety over grim expectations for Italian fashion sales, worries over European economic health and uncertainty over domestic politics.
Designer Miuccia Prada, whose sleek collections are eagerly awaited at the Milan week, chose a post-industrial setting to present her look for a modern woman hemmed in by the grim realities of life since an economic downturn began in 2008.
"It seems to me that in the contemporary world you cannot let yourself go completely," Prada said after her show.
Armani re-worked a masculine style for a collection that included suspenders and jumpsuits in black velvet accessorised with black berets.
"We must create clothes that women wear," Armani said backstage from a show attended by Princess Charlene of Monaco.
Luxury retailers have fared better than other industries during the prolonged recession in southern Europe thanks to demand from wealthy travellers from Asia, the Middle East and Russia.
But global sales of Italian fashion - including those of smaller brands hit hard by the crisis - are expected to fall by 3.5 percent this year after dropping 5.4 percent in 2012, textile and fashion body Sistema Moda Italia (SMI) said.
Designers expressed concerns about stability in Italy, where the uncertain outcome of parliamentary elections held during the fashion week rekindled fears of a new euro zone debt crisis.
"We need infrastructures to attract tourists but we also need a long-term government for such long-term measures," said Michele Norsa, chief executive of Salvatore Ferragamo.
Gucci designer Frida Giannini offered jackets narrowed at the waist with egg-shaped shoulders and worn over pencil skirts below the knee. A mostly pragmatic look designed for work.
Giannini, who is going to have her first baby in a couple of weeks, used colours like purple, rust, moss green and dark blue for a femme fatale she said was "steely yet sexy".
If colours were dark, materials were bold.
Neoprene, lurex and vinyl surfaced everywhere, with Versace delivering the most daring looks in a rock-and-roll show.
Creative head Donatella Versace showed ankle-length silk dresses with vinyl details contouring the body, while oversized coats came in bright yellow and black-and-white colours.
Designers reserved their boldest ideas for accessories, where sales have risen during the recession because they are more affordable in price and can be used for more than a season.
"Sales of my accessories are growing," Armani said, after showing shoes with sculpted heels and a variety of handbags.
Versace opted for silver spikes on chain necklaces and studded boots, while Roberto Cavalli crafted necklaces in the shape of snakes and roses and large earring enveloping the ears.
Dolce & Gabbana, who drew inspiration from Byzantine mosaics, had shoes with inlaid sculpted heels, capped their models with golden crowns and draped them in jewels.
Other trends for next winter include zips, seen at Etro, pleated skirts from Blumarine, and a return of padded shoulders. (Reporting by Antonella Ciancio)