Will retrospective stripes and zig-zag knits revive the tough luxury goods market?

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The Independent Online

Milan fashion week closed yesterday by looking backwards. Celebrating 50 years of its hallmark striped and zig-zag knits, Missoni staged a retrospective show, presented immediately after its spring/summer 2004 collection. Husband and wife founder-designers Rosita and Tai Missoni emerged to a standing ovation, surrounded by two younger generations of Missonis, who all work within the company. They are one of the family businesses upon which Italy based its ready-to-wear industry, and as such are much loved by their countrymen. As a finale, the 250 technicians who work at the Missoni's looms also took their turn to receive the applause.

Missoni's spring collection, designed by their daughter, Angela, was dominated by bright prints. Bold patterns have had a strong showing all week in Milan. At Missoni, its famous multicoloured stripes were painted across disco-era, halter-neck dresses.

Earlier in the day Marni also showed a collection that had a flourish of bold prints. Here were easy-on-the-eye patterns such as polka dots and Fifties-style florals, executed in mint, coffee and, occasionally, fluorescent yellow. While Missoni and Marni each have distinctive characters, both labels are known for bright and breezy clothes that appeal to women with an eye for quirky colour combinations and pattern. However, while their styles may be casual - a light summer blouson, say, or a chiffon shirt - the price tags are are not. In the current economic climate, designer fashion brands are having to work harder than ever to stay afloat.

Italian fashion houses, possessed of acute business sense, are particularly aware of this. They are hoping that an optimistic mood on the catwalk will translate in to improved sales. The luxury goods market has struggled in the wake of the Iraqi conflict, Sars, the threat of terrorism and a strong euro.

Although Milan fashion week commenced with major players predicting growth next year, they are in no position to take risks. World famous names such as Gucci, Prada and Armani have returned to their signature looks for next season's collections. The emphasis on reliable products such as handbags, the cash cow for any brand, has been renewed. Gucci's catwalk show last week featured a record 35 different bags, its distinctive logo highly visible on many of them. Prada, meanwhile, decided to remain with the ladylike theme that proved successful for her previous collection. Armani, too, went back to basics, sending out his models in many of the softly tailored jackets that made his name.