MILAN (Reuters) - Flowing fabrics and sparkling corsets filled catwalks for the first day of Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday which organizers and industry professionals hope will cement the Italian city's status as a fashion hub.
Models decked out in corseted cocktail dress swimsuits strutted down a sand-covered runway at the 1950s-inspired show by Canadian designers DSquared2, while waiters made cocktails behind a tiki-hut style bar.
Gucci designer Frida Giannini presented sequined kimonos with plunging necklines and loose cropped trousers in fluid fabrics to an auditorium packed with some of the 15,000 people fashion trade body Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI)estimates come to Milan for the women's fashion week.
Fashion is a key contributor to the Italian economy, with a predicted turnover of 58.86 billion euros ($78.57 billion) in 2013, according to the CNMI.
The CNMI says sales volumes for clothing, leather goods and footwear are expected to dip 2.5 percent this year, at a lower rate than the 5.4 percent decline recorded in 2012, driven by exports outside the crisis-hit euro zone.
Diesel jeans founder Renzo Rosso said: "Brands go where they have more bargaining power." His company Staff International holds a license to produce and distribute DSquared2 clothing.
"This week needs to be done well, otherwise buyers won't come here any more, they'll go to other cities which do it better."
While access to the 74 fashion shows on the week's official calendar is hard to get, the CNMI and Milan's local government are broadcasting shows on outdoor screens.
Festivities began on Tuesday evening as crowds packed the narrow streets of Milan's fashionable "Golden Quadrangle" and high-end shops stayed open outside normal hours.
"This isn't just a chance to show the fashion brands, it's a chance to show the Milan brand," one shop assistant said.
Notably absent from the fashion show calendar is design duo Dolce & Gabbana who will show their spring-summer 2014 collection independently. The pair have clashed with local government over comments attributed to a local councilor regarding their convictions for tax evasion earlier this year.
Organizers do not say how many buyers attend the fashion week, but Mario Boselli, president of the Milan-based CNMI, said he was pleased with the event on the first afternoon.
(Reporting By Isla Binnie)