Dolce & Gabbana's latest collections. Italy's fashion industry increasingly looking abroad in anticipation of a drop in revenues this year.
MILAN: International buyers have packed out the shows at Milan Fashion Week, offering a lifeline for an industry that is headed for another slump this year as Italy grinds through a painful recession.
"It's a more commercial market than New York or London," Ekaterina Moiseeva, commercial director for Russian fashion chain Bosco di Ciliegi, told AFP in an interview as she took a break from the shows which wrapped up this week.
"Russian women pay a lot of attention to how they dress but most of them are not going to wear anything too eccentric or outlandish, which is why Milan is great," said the immaculately-dressed Moiseeva, a Milan regular.
"I can't get carried away buying pieces I love but which would not translate back to the woman on the street. Our clients aren't fashion victims, they are normal people who may not have the physique to pull off some looks," she added.
Italy's fashion industry is increasingly looking abroad as the sector is predicting a 5.2-per cent drop in revenues this year, wiping out a recovery of 5.5 per cent in 2011 after the slump seen in the global financial crisis.
Companies like Bosco di Ciliegi, which owns department stores and over 100 mono-brand stores across Russia, from Emporio Armani to D&G, are vital.
Moiseeva travels to Milan and Paris every year to watch catwalk shows and catch new trends, order outfits, woo clients and network at parties.
"I've been coming to Milan for 20 years, but I still find it so easy to get carried away when you find yourself surrounded by so many exciting pieces.
"There's quite a military trend this season, which is unlikely to work well in Russia, but I loved Ermanno Scervino, and Etro and Marras were very beautiful, with dresses that cling to the body and will sell well," she said.
Bosco Di Ciliegi's customers are Russian women in their mid-30s, who have active social lives and need new dresses for parties most evenings as well as something for work -- and spend over 50 per cent of their salaries on clothes.
A growing number of customers now watch the catwalks on the Internet as they are streamed live, and then immediately tell Moiseeva exactly which pieces from each collection they want: "They'll say, get me the burgundy in a size 40!"
The rising demand for fashionistas to own items from catwalk collections is reflected in companies like Moda Operandi, whose members can order pieces which may never be sold in stores or risk being altered to make them an easier sell.
In September, the Manhattan-based company launched a partnership with Vogue and opened its doors to all who cannot wait to get that Armani or Fendi dress.
"The beauty of it is that it brings the designer and customer together into a direct relationship," said fashion director Roopal Patel, who is scouring Milan showrooms for the luxury she says Italian brands are renowned for.
"It's a really strong season. The velvet trend we saw emerging in London has taken centre stage at shows like Gucci and Prada, there's a lot of black but it's treated in a modern way with a sexy, sultry feel," she said.
Unlike Bosco Di Ciliegi, Moda Operandi's customers are women who are after the most daring designs and can pay thousands of dollars to get them.
"There's a lot of power dressing this season, and plays on texture, with inset panels in leathers and plaids. It's exactly the unique sort of thing our clients look for, things they won't already own in their closet," Patel said.
Moda Operandi rushes a team to the showrooms a day after each catwalk to shoot the collection for the website. Moiseeva too makes appointments to see outfits and make her purchases, before squeezing in a shopping trip or a party.
"It's six days of partying. If you love the fashion world you have a great time, otherwise it can be extremely draining and alienating," she said.
Looking radiant despite the punishing schedule, Moiseeva was impeccably dressed in a black dress, diamonds and killer heels even at breakfast, as she sipped green tea and prepared for another round of catwalk shows.
"I went to see Aida last night at La Scala Opera house, it was wonderful. Thank God Milan has the Scala. I love to go to exhibitions or musicals as a break from fashion, but by now I've seen pretty much all Milan has to offer!"