Apparel is at the heart of the fashion industry and the fashion system, and Italian fashion is replete with famous high-end brands. Most of the major Italian fashion houses are integrated companies that produce not only men’s and women’s apparel but also a full range of shoes, accessories, jewelry, and other fashion products. The largest apparel company in Italy, however, occupies a different place in the fashion spectrum: that is Benetton, known perhaps as much for its colorful advertisements as for its lively and appealing casual wear.
Menswear - Italian men's fashions are strong in both casual attire and more formal business outfits; it is a world leader in upscale, highly fashionable menswear. The Italian tradition of fine men's tailoring goes back to the nineteenth century with such renowned houses as Castagnia (founded 1850) and continued in the first half of the twentieth century with the textile firm of Zegna and menswear houses such as Domenico Caraceni and Canali. and, especially, Brioni. Films such as Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" and several of the James Bond films (with Bond dressed by Brioni) projected an image of casual elegance in menswear that was epitomized in the softly draped suits of Armani in the 1960s and 1970s. The Italian suit, body-conscious and with superb tailoring, is an icon recognized around the world. Versions of the Italian suit are produced by all of the major Italian fashion houses. Kiton, Roberto Cavalli and Ermenegildo Zegna are among the contemporary leaders in menswear.. Casual wear projects an image of traditional Italian elegance, with knits and layering projecting an easy, masculine look. Missoni sweaters, instantly recognizable for their bold color palate and striking designs, are emblematic of a distinctive Italian look, as are casual outfits in "the colors of Benetton." Diesel clothing is designed to appeal particularly to younger men. Athletic clothing, such as track suits and swimwear, also shows the importance of the Italian fashion industry's strong sense of design, moving mundane functional clothing into the realm of true fashion.
Womenswear - Italian women's fashion retains the aura of casual elegance that first brought it to international attention a half-century ago. The unique Italian business model of vertically-integrated fashion houses means that the leading names in Italian fashion houses generally produce a full range of women's apparel from athletic attire and casual wear to the highest of high-fashion evening wear. Leading fashion houses offer couture and high-end ready-to wear lines as well as, in many cases, less expensive lines, together with branded accessories and footwear. Leading women's fashion houses include Armani, Bottega Veneta, Brioni, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Ferragamo, Gucci, Kiton, Krizia, Moschino, Prada, Valentino, Versace, and Eremegildo Zegna. Some of these companies originated in products other than womenswear (Armani and Zegna with menswear, Gucci with accessories, Ferragamo with shoes) but all now are important producers of designer apparel for women, with international networks of retail establishments that have made these brands instantly recognized throughout the world.
As with other sectors of the fashion industry, production of high fashion clothing for both women and men is widely dispersed around the country, with some areas of concentration in Lombardy, Veneto, and in and around the cities of Milan, Rome, and Naples. There nevertheless are apparel manufacturers in almost every part of the country, especially in the case of family owned and operated businesses such as Missoni and Zegna, which in most cases continue to be based where they were founded years or decades ago. And of course the production of finished clothing requires the sourcing of many different kinds of supplies, such as textiles, thread, buttons, and trimmings, making clothing production truly a national industry. While production of some inexpensive lines of Italian-designed clothing has moved offshore, for high-end apparel there is no substitute for the technical skills and tradition of craftsmanship of Italy's garment workers. Milan is the business center for ready-to-wear clothing, and many Italian fashion houses participate in Milan's spring and fall Fashion Week shows, which attract international attention. Italian haute couture, in contrast, is centered largely on Rome.
In menswear, Italy is leading the current international trend toward a more informal "executive casual look" and an emphasis on layering. Men's suits are made in lightweight fabrics and often are worn with an open-collared dress shirt, without a tie. Fashion-forward menswear features a layered look achieved by sweaters (often asymmetrical) and vests under a jacket of casual design. Colors are earth-tones offset with bright highlights.
In womenswear, the current spirit of environmental consciousness is reflected in a continuing emphasis on soft fabrics and earthy, natural-looking colors. Menswear-inspired outfits in heavier fabrics, such as blazers, slacks, and coats, offer an alternative to the prevailing soft femininity. In the Fall 2011 collections at Milan, bright, gem-like hues and bold black-and-white ensembles pointed in a new direction. Fur coats in a variety of lengths and treatments were shown by many top Italian designers.