Naomi brings glitz to start of Milan fashion week

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MILAN, Sep 22 (Reuters) Supermodel Naomi Campbell turned up today for a sparkling start to Milan's spring and summer 2008 womenswear shows, wearing an emerald-sequined swimsuit to launch the ''Miss Bikini LUXE'' collection.

Campbell, in town to promote her Fashion for Relief charity, strode down the catwalk to the tune of ''It Began in Africa'', by The Chemical Brothers, which kicked off the collection by Alessandra and Francesca Piacentini.

The duo are giving 150 bikinis and cocktail dresses to sell on the charity's Web site to gather funds for the victims of Britain's worst floods in 60 years, which caused billions of pounds in damage and drove thousands from their homes.

Fashion for Relief says it has already given 1 million dollars to help in the United States after Hurricane Katrina.

The LUXE collection, which departs from the designers' traditional swimwear line into dresses and wraps, mixed skimpy bikinis with floaty seventies and animal print wraps. Wide leather studded belts and armbands provided a clashing contrast.

Valeria Marini used underwear as outerwear for her Diamond Seduction collection, with elongated lace bodices worn as cocktail dresses and chiffon evening wraps that could easily slip into negligees.

Marini, who sported a pink kiss tattooed on her arm, ran a series of famous film kisses as a backdrop to the collection and a soundtrack which included snatches from Bizet's ''Carmen''.

On one model, a necklace of black chandelier drops lay heavily on a see-through dress in grey and yellow animal print that split at the crotch to drift into a train at the back.

In contrast, shocking pink and turquoise satin turned slips into stunning short dresses or elegant shirts for the evening.

Around 80 designers show collections on the catwalks this week, including big names like Giorgio Armani, Versace and Dolce&Gabbana.

And there is a host of parties, presentations and concerts planned as Milan aims to prove it is still, as designer Roberto Cavalli said in a newspaper interview today, the fashion capital of the world.

Milan, with its stable of established designers, faces a challenge from an effervescent London, where shows last week sparkled with new talent and innovation.

''London is very interesting and a testing ground for young designers,'' Cavalli told Il Sole 24 Ore in the interview.

And he raised another likely theme for the week ahead when he said he could sell a stake in his company. Bankers are likely to be keeping an eye on the catwalks -- and not just to see whether hemlines will fall with the markets.

REUTERS GT BD2350

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