By Antonella Ciancio
MILAN (Reuters) - Designers at Milan Fashion Week delivered lightweight and flowing dresses for the thrifty woman seeking a timeless look that will last more than a season in the age of austerity.
Sheer dresses in pastel colors dominated the 2013 spring/summer shows, which ended on Tuesday with a call for restraint on the catwalk from designer Giorgio Armani.
"Our work as designers is to suggest what people wear. What's the point of showing 30 pieces that don't go into the stores?" Armani asked reporters.
Fashion executives meeting in Milan acknowledged that the economic environment was getting tougher for luxury makers as growth slows in China and recession hits southern Europe.
Sales of Italian fashion are expected to fall 5.6 percent this year after growing 6 percent last year, according to the National Chamber of Italian Fashion.
The decline makes Italy the worst performing market in a global luxury industry expected to grow 7 percent this year.
Luxury goods makers Salvatore Ferragamo and Prada dismissed concerns of a sharp slowdown among global players with retail exposure to emerging countries.
"We follow China with great attention. But the (growth) trend remains," Ferragamo Chief Executive Michele Norsa said on the sidelines of his label's show.
Global economic concerns were echoed on Milan catwalks where most designers opted for wearable shapes and neutral shades.
Armani stuck to an androgynous style for his collection, where flowing trousers were cut above the ankle and masculine jackets were tailored to fit like a glove.
Trend-setter Miuccia Prada however surprised her audience with a Japanese-inspired collection that confirmed the designer as one of the most independent creative minds in the industry.
Prada stitched white flowers on kimono-like dresses, while shoes were either impossibly high or replaced by leather socks.
"I thought of a woman who is strong and sweet," Prada told reporters after her packed show in a black-and-white theatre.
Asked whether her bold creations were to be found in stores, Prada said everything she showed would be on sale.
Italian brands insisted on the value of craftsmanship, a quality for which Italy is famous.
From Roberto Cavalli to Roccobarocco, designers elaborated embroideries difficult to copy by fast fashion chains.
Florentine designer Cavalli, known for making his own animal prints, created deco motifs for his robes in natural shades.
Gucci's creative head Frida Giannini proposed aristocratic looks in bright colors with matching shoes. Bell sleeves and ruffles added movement to her sophisticated looks.
Lightweight dresses returned at Blumarine and Versace, where platinum-blonde designer Donatella Versace turned mini-dresses in lingerie pieces tie-dyed in pastel colors.
Almost every collection offered mixed lengths from mini shorts to flowing trousers in a wide appeal to differing body shapes and styles.
Brands such as Gianfranco Ferre, Genny, Versace and Frankie Morello cut new shapes from trapezoidal to A-shaped dresses,
Although the clothes were linear, practical and the most dramatic catwalk excesses toned down this season, handbags and shoes with gold and silver details stole into the limelight.
The fashion pack descend on Paris next for the finale of the spring/summer 2013 catwalk season.
(Reporting by Antonella Ciancio)