MILAN Milan's menswear fashion week started on Saturday amid concerns over the economy and also the fate of Vittorio Missoni, one of Italy's best-known clothes executives, whose plane disappeared off Venezuela a week ago.
Italy's luxury goods industry is set to continue to outperform other sectors this year, according to analysts, helped by the appetite of Asian shoppers for the country's tailored suits and leather shoes.
But prospects for the economy remain as gloomy as the cloudy skies under which hundreds of fashion critics and buyers rushed on Saturday to watch the menswear proposals for next winter.
Orders for the Italian menswear collections that will arrive in stores around the world this summer have fallen 8 percent, Italy's textile and fashion body Sistema Moda Italia (SMI) said.
Over half of domestic menswear manufacturers polled by SMI said they saw no sign of improvement this year, while the remaining 44 percent said they were preparing for deterioration.
The fashion world is also awaiting news about Missoni, eldest son of one of Italy's most famous fashion families.
A small twin-engine aircraft carrying Missoni, 58, his wife Maurizia Castiglioni, another couple and two Venezuelan crew went missing on January 4 after taking off from the Caribbean island resort of Los Roques.
The Missoni fashion house, known for its exuberantly coloured knits featuring bold stripes and zigzags, said it had decided to go ahead with its show in Milan, although the family is unlikely to attend.
Media reported on Saturday that the location where the plane disappeared may have been found, but it was not possible to get an immediate comment from Italy's foreign ministry.
The Italian fashion chamber called reporters to retweet family members' requests to find Missoni and the others aboard.
CHEAP AND CHIC
Designers showing in Milan will need all their imagination to attract male customers flocking to e-commerce websites and outlets for quality bargains.
Domestic sales of Italian tailored clothes, silk ties and leather shoes fell 4.7 percent in 2012 for a fifth consecutive year, according to Italian textile and fashion body Sistema Moda Italia (SMI).
Only outlets and online sales bucked the trend, with a jump of 41 percent in sales to final customers during the 2011/12 winter season, according to SMI.
Big luxury names such as Zegna, Prada (1913.HK) and Salvatore Ferragamo (SFER.MI) have boosted their digital ranges to entice younger customers who shop from smartphones.
"You have to ask yourself: 'Are our products suitable for selling on line?'" Hugo Boss (BOSSn.DE) Chief Financial Officer Mark Langer told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
"Amazingly, we've sold a lot more suits than we thought we would online," Langer said.
Exports helped global sales of Italian menswear grow by 2 percent to 8.6 billion euros (7 billion pounds) in 2012 despite a sharp decline in domestic stores, SMI said.
Europe is still the biggest market for Italian menswear but sales fell 2.7 percent in France and up to 7 percent in Spain in the first nine months of 2012, SMI said.
The Milan show opens with menswear champion Ermenegildo Zegna, followed by Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry and Versace.
(Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Jason Webb)