* Gucci opens 2013-14 autumn-winter shows, Armani closes
* Coincides with parliamentary election on Feb. 24-25
* Italy fashion sales seen down 3.5 pct in 2013
(Adds designers comments, details from shows)
By Antonella Ciancio
MILAN, Feb 20 Designers kicked off Milan fashion
week on Wednesday with bold collections to persuade Italian
shoppers that the worst of the economic crisis is over and it is
time to hit the stores again.
Fashion houses including PPR's Gucci, Giorgio
Armani and Prada are among the top names showing their
womenswear 2013-14 autumn-winter collections, taking up the
baton from catwalk shows in London.
"I have great hopes for this country after the political and
economic debacle of the last months," cashmere goods maker
Brunello Cucinelli told Reuters at his showroom.
The colourful crowd of fashion critics and bloggers
descending on Milan will mix this year with Italian voters
heading to the ballot box on Feb. 24-25 to choose a new
government and decide the country's future economic path.
Italy came close to a major debt crisis in November 2011
before Silvio Berlusconi stood down as prime minister and was
replaced by technocrat Mario Monti.
"There is a need to clean up politics and give small
businesses the incentives to hire people," Maurizio Modica,
co-designer at Italy's brand Frankie Morello, told Reuters.
Sales of Italian fashion goods are forecast to drop 3.5
percent to around 58 billion euros ($77 billion) this year,
after falling 5.4 percent in 2012, according to preliminary data
by textile and fashion body Sistema Moda Italia (SMI).
Gucci, the first big name brand to show, proposed a fetish
aesthetic for its sensual collection, with sculpted dresses in
materials such as python skin.
Creative head Frida Giannini, who is expecting her first
baby in a couple of weeks, was inspired by the idea of a "femme
fatale" for her show, which also featured evening gowns with
colourful feathers stitched on black lace.
For the morning, Giannini showed sporty jackets embroidered
with three-dimensional leaves.
Fashion house Frankie Morello presented a "dark lady" for
its youthful collection, which featured black blouses covered
with mirror shards and stiff fabrics in geometric patterns.
"I am confident that this edition of the Milan womenswear
week will confirm the positive signs of recovery that we saw in
January during the menswear shows," Mario Boselli, chairman of
Italy's fashion national chamber, said in a statement.
He said he expected orders for the autumn-winter collections
would improve as the recession eases in 2013.
Foreign markets will make up the mainstay of the revenue,
with exports expected to reach record levels in terms of value,
surpassing the previous record in 2000. Non-EU countries such as
China will outpace EU members for the first time, SMI said.
"These forecasts are based on a scenario that there will be
no fiscal shocks in 2013 and the government to be named after
the election will couple fiscal austerity with measures to boost
spending in the second half of the year," SMI said.
The fashion week, which ends on Tuesday, will also include
shows from Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli.
($1 = 0.7487 euros)
(Editing by Alison Williams)