Jan 22, 2002/ FWD/ --- There was an air of determination in Florence last week in the face of economic challenges posed by the events of last fall. The city was bursting at the seams with entertaining opening events, fashion shows, buyers and excitement as Pitti Uomo began. Scaffoldings had been proudly stripped off to reveal glossy new Pucci, Giorgio Armani and Roberto Cavalli stores on Via Tornabuoni. Kicking off the Italian menswear market on Thursday, Pitti Uomo's exhibitors were poised to fight recession for Fall/Winter 2002/2003, with 80 new brands and a total of 664 companies showcasing their wares. Proving their reputation for high quality and innovation, there was a dazzling array of product from Italian firms, bolstered by a gaggle of international exhibitors (35% of the total) lead by England and France. The offerings ranged from the finest in custom and classic tailoring, to avant-garde styling and technical sportswear, to denim dimensions, vintage galore and handcrafted finery. Were there concerns about the post-September 11 economy? Umberto Angeloni, CEO of Brioni, observed, "It's going to be survival of the best. September 11 has triggered a global recession. Consumers are making choices, looking at who has the best brand and the product." He believes that Brioni, a niche-market luxury brand of personalized, custom tradition, will not suffer from the recession. Another brand with the finest of sartorial lineage, the Ermenegildo Zegna Heritage collection revitalized classic archival silhouettes with new contemporary tailoring and fabrics reinterpreted in lighter weights. On the innovation front, Zegna Sport introduced its revolutionary weightless Microlite fiber with high performance waterproof, windproof jackets that weigh only 250 grams. Pirelli made news with their hi-tech unisex line that includes the P Zero Aria "pneumatic" parka and P Zero Aqua shoes. Modeled by soccer superstar Ronaldo, the parka took two years of collaboration to develop. The finished product is made of lightweight, rubberized cotton with zip-out construction and a patented anti-theft device. Corpo Nove and IDEAS showed off existing hi-tech possibilities with demonstrations of 3-D customizing software for shoes and prototypes featuring groundbreaking luminescent fiber optic fabrics. Can we still be surprised by jeans? Apparently, yes. Having already made waves with cult-like retailers such as Colette in Paris, newcomer Etienne Ozeki made his dÃ©but with one-of-a-kind patch jackets and accessories, all slightly different thanks to unusual treatments like Bio-Wash, Enzyme Stone Wash and hand-coated print work. The Levi's Red stand was a shrine dedicated to the oldest pair of Levi's. Recently purchased on eBay for a whopping $46,000, the archival 1880's jeans put a new slant on Levi's vintage value and heritage. To top off opening day events, the crowds moved from the Fortezza da Basso, Pitti fairgrounds to the magnificent old train station-turned-exhibition space, Stazione Leopolda, for the opening of the Windsor collection. The contemporary array of photography was sponsored by the German fashion brand and includes artists such as Cindy Sherman, Helmut Newton and Inez Van Lamseveerde. And finally, after moving into a cavernous adjacent room, the much-hyped John Varvatos Euro-premiÃ¨re woke up flagging buyers and journalists with an immense video of Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner. The soundtrack rocked, but the "rebel prep" clothes left one wondering if there was more to come. Elegant fabrics of cashmere, cashmere flannels, fine and felted merinos, and some knits were notable. Some of the coats and jackets hinted at offering more. But repetitive silhouettes rendered the presentation monotonous and the drab color story did not give the same lift as the music. Despite the outlook for an economically difficult cycle of recovery, at Italy's Florence season opener, the menswear industry was facing the challenge with creative product offerings, style innovation and sheer grit.