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Gucci bares backstage, No. 21 celebrates a decade

Milan Fashion Week opened Wednesday with outreach to China, largely cut off from the rest of the world by a new virus, and to Africa, often overlooked by luxury except as references.

New York-based Chinese designer Han Wen presented a runway show on the eve of the main calendar, standing in for three Chinese designers who had been scheduled to show in Milan but were blocked by the spread of the new coronavirus.

As will be key events this week, Han’s show was shared on Chinese social media platforms as part of the Milan Fashion Chamber initiative “China We Are With You,” reaching out to the estimated 1,000 journalists, buyers and industry insiders in China who won’t be able to make it to Milan as planned this season.

A model wears a creation as part of Gucci's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

The Milan Fashion Hub also featured collections by five African designers, showing for the first time in Milan and who will be given visibility in some of the 11 luxury shopping outlet villages operated by the Value Retail Group.

Highlights from the first day of women's wear 2020-21 fall-winter previews:

BACKSTAGE AT GUCCI

Designer Alessandro Michele walks out at the end of Gucci's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

Back-stages secrets were out in the open at Gucci. Models were made up in the foyer as the fashion crowd arrived for the show. And they dressed on a rotating runway at the center of a circular show room, overseen by creative director Alessandro Michele, just out of view in the center.

Michele said he wanted to demystify back-stage rituals, which he likened in a series of mixed metaphors to a religious rite, to cinema, to a circus.

‘’We are all on that stage. Fashion is a complex mechanism, a sacred thing. We all work for this rite that is almost religious,’’ Michele told reporters after the show.

A model wears a creation as part of Gucci's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

The collection reflected his mix of costuming and eccentricity, offering to the growing Gucci tribe multitudinous expressions that are gender fluid but also allow perhaps a pure form of self-expression by diving deep into the psyche.

As in menswear, Michele explored children’s clothes for adults, and it is not a stretch to say that his Gucci tenure, in its sixth year, is also sort of elaborate dress-up game, giving men and women the freedom to express themselves in ways they perhaps wouldn’t imagine on their own. Or, better put, to create a self they may only recognize when they see it on the runway.

How else to explain a baby-doll dress worn with patent leather collar, a French maid’s lace-trim mini-uniform with torn stockings and a riding hat and studded booties, or a pilgrim collar on a long black velvet dress and a large flat-top hat, tiered ball gowns straight out of a Little Women costume drama, and a bonnet with cat ears worn with a small smock dress.

A model wears a creation as part of Gucci's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

‘’I did a bit the job of a costume designer, looking at things almost as a disguise,’’ Michele said. ‘’Then there were things done with great abundance, like bows that appeared to be created at the last minute by a mother, that belonged to other eras of childhood.’’

No. 21 CELEBRATES A DECADE

Alessandro Dell’ Acqua celebrated a decade of his No. 21 brand with new twists of his brand classics -- and with an updated remix of his favorite Pat Benatar number, ‘’Love is a Battlefield,’’ which habitually closes the show.

A model wears a creation as part of N. 21's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoAntonio Calanni)

An oversized man’s shirt in a classic blue-and-white stripe was the centerpiece of the women's wear collection. It was worn suggestively as a mini dress under knitwear decorated with safety pin-patterned bursts, or with a sequin slit skirt and matching jacket with shearling accents.

Lace and florals, feathers and sequins underscored the feminine attitude, which got an edge with punk hardware like chain accents on shoes, along plunging necklines or as a belt and halter on an emerald green sequin dress. The oversize silhouette in, say, a leather jumpsuit was contrasted with a form-fitting sweater tucked into a skirt in contrasting plaids befitting Milan’s bourgeois, which has inspired generations of Italian designers.

‘’I worked on all everything that has been my obsession over these last 10 years, but without nostalgia because I didn’t want be self-referential,’’ Dell’ Acqua said backstage.

A model wears a creation as part of N. 21's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoAntonio Calanni)

A model wears a creation as part of N. 21's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoAntonio Calanni)

A model wears a creation as part of N. 21's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoAntonio Calanni)

A model wears a creation as part of N. 21's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoAntonio Calanni)

EDS NOTE: NUDITY - A model wears a creation as part of Gucci's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

Models wear creations as part of Gucci's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

Models wear creations as part of Gucci's FallWinter 20202021 collection, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)