Milan menswear splashes color on grey times

MILAN (Reuters) - Menswear designers showcased colorful jackets, mid-thigh shorts and sockless loafers in Milan this week to impress men who need more than grey suits to shine in tough economic times.

The Milan fashion shows that ended on Tuesday brought fresh ideas to an industry starting to feel the pinch of the euro crisis.

Star shoemaker Ferragamo, renowned for its classic elegance, surprised the well-heeled audience at an all-white Milan stock exchange with models in colored suits and sneakers.

Trend-setter Prada explored new colored, geometric patterns and Roberto Cavalli swapped his signature animal prints for a butterly theme.

A tribute to the sunny Italian summer came from Gucci, whose men looked like holidaymakers in watermelon, green and sky blue suits.

"My starting point was a blatant desire for color to evoke summer," said Gucci's creative director, Frida Giannini.

Armed with new ideas, fashion executives shrugged off concerns about a slowdown in Europe as Asian shoppers continue to travel. But some acknowledged there were challenges ahead, even in the fast-growing Eastern markets.

"China is growing, but not uniformly. The southern coast for example is growing less than second- and third-tier cities," Ferragamo CEO Michele Norsa said on the sidelines of the show.

Gianluca Brozzetti, chief executive of the Roberto Cavalli group, said store locations in China had become difficult to find and very expensive.

Italian fashion sales will fall 5.2 percent to 60.5 billion euros this year, industry estimates say, a small decline compared with the 15 percent drop during the 2009 crisis, but a blow to an industry that makes around 70 percent of its sales in Europe.

Medium-term industry forecasts suggest the global luxury sector will grow at between 7 percent and 9 percent this year, down from the double-digit figures seen in the past two years.

Asia-driven menswear, however, remains a safe spot for fashion firms. Consulting firm Bain & Co estimates menswear sales will grow 14 percent a year, nearly double the pace of luxury womenswear.

In Milan, fashion executives and designers put a brave face on the challenging times. Italian businessman Diego Della Valle called for "real men" to stand united against the crisis.

"We need normal, quality men. We need to act together for change," the head of luxury shoemaker Tod's said at the launch of "Italian portraits", which featured pictures of self-confident businessmen in informal suits and leather loafers.

Italian fashion doyen Giorgio Armani created sporty jackets and pleated trousers for a new relaxed "American Gigolo" look that seduces with natural elegance. "Excess leads nowhere," he said.

Glamorous fashion house Versace, however, shocked its audience with daring men in gladiator sandals and boxing belts. Trouser suits came with sleeveless jackets and metallic shirts - a theme also seen at British brand Burberry, where collars shone under the natural light flooding the catwalk.

It was up to celebrity designers Dolce & Gabbana to bring glamour back down to earth, with more than 70 ordinary Sicilian men, all first-timers on the runway, modeling striped shirts amid rows of green cacti.


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