* Gucci opens 2013-14 autumn-winter shows, Armani closes
* Parliamentary elections on Feb. 24-25
* Italy fashion sales seen down 3.5 pct in 2013
Designers kick off Milan fashion week on Wednesday hoping the worst of the economic crisis is over and that Italian shoppers will return to their stores.
Fashion houses including PPR's Gucci, Giorgio Armani and Prada will be among the top names showing their womenswear 2013-14 autumn-winter collections, taking up the baton from catwalks shows in London.
But the colourful crowd of fashion critics and bloggers descending on Milan will mix with Italian voters heading to the ballot box on Feb. 24-25 for a parliamentary vote watched by political leaders and financial markets alike.
"I am confident that this edition of the Milan womenswear week will confirm the positive signs of recovery that we saw in January during the menswear shows," Mario Boselli, chairman of Italy's fashion national chamber, said in a statement.
He said he expected orders for the autumn-winter collections would improve as the recession eases in 2013.
Sales of Italian fashion goods are forecast to drop 3.5 percent to around 58 billion euros ($77 billion) this year, after falling 5.4 percent in 2012, according to preliminary data by textile and fashion body Sistema Moda Italia (SMI).
Foreign markets will make up the mainstay of revenue, with exports expected to reach new record levels since 2000 in terms of value. Non-EU countries such as China will outpace EU members for the first time, it said.
"These forecasts are based on a scenario that there will be no fiscal shocks in 2013 and the government to be named after the election will couple fiscal austerity with measures to boost spending in the second half of the year," SMI said.
The fashion week, which ends on Tuesday, will also include shows from Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli.