MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Designers such as Italian duo Dolce & Gabbana and Belgian Dirk Bikkembergs are hoping to draw crisis-hit shoppers back by staging fashion events in the most popular squares of Milan.
Male models and celebrities will strut catwalks and red carpets in over 30 shows and dozens of showroom collections during the Milan spring/summer 2011 fashion week, which runs until Tuesday and comes amid timid signs of economic recovery.
Sales of tailored suits, ties and leather shoes dropped 11.3 percent to 8 billion euros ($9.91 billion) in 2009, one of the worst years ever for Italian menswear, said Sistema Moda Italia (SMI), a body representing Italy's clothing and textile industry.
However, wealthy spenders were back in the shops in the first months of the year and should help lift global luxury sales by more than 4 percent in 2010, according to U.S. consultancy Bain & Co.
"This edition will be particularly important to assess the pace of recovery, which is certainly underway, but whose vigor has to be strengthened," Mario Boselli, president of Italy's National Chamber of Fashion, said in a statement.
Italy's fashion capital, in competition with cities like London, Paris and New York, will also get an image boost from the anniversaries of Ermenegildo Zegna and Dolce & Gabbana.
The fashion duo celebrate the 20th anniversary of their menswear line with an exhibition on Saturday at the City Hall, in front of La Scala opera house.
"We want as many people as possible at our exhibition, we want Mister Brambilla (a typical Milanese name) to come and see our history," Domenico Dolce said in a news conference with Milan's mayor Letizia Moratti on Friday.
In the nearby square, cubes with images of the fashion house will rotate to the music of Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi.
Zegna, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year, hosts an exhibition on the importance of style.
In an unofficial kickoff on Friday evening, Bikkembergs showed on a big screen in central Duomo square -- a popular spot for tourists visiting Italy's fashion capital -- its South Africa-inspired "sport couture" collection.
Shot near Cape Town, in South Africa, where the designer, a soccer fan, flew for the World Cup, the collection features joggers in luxury materials like cashmere, jersey suits and fringed trousers. The slogan "Football is fashion" rang out through the loudspeakers, as shoppers flocked to stores and cafes.
Nearby, at high-end department store La Rinascente, the American movie star Matthew McConaughey signed autographs to promote Dolce & Gabbana's scent "The One."
As in past editions, Versace will showcase its creation on Saturday in landmark Vetra square.
The Italian fashion industry, with an annual turnover of around 100 billion euros, is a key driver for Italy's economic growth.
Turnover for the sector fell 15 percent last year to 56.5 billion euros. An improvement is forecast for this year.
(Edbiting by Paul Casciato)