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.
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
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.
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.
''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.
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.
ARTHUR ARBESSER'S MILAN LOVE LETTER
Arthur Arbesser described his latest collection as a love letter to his adopted city of Milan, taking cues from its architecture and inspiration from friends who have become his muses and artisans.
The looks were slightly more sophisticated and more sensual than in the past. ''A little bit more grown up,'' Arbesser conceded backstage.
A crinkled silk skirt contrasted fluidly with a chunky mohair vest and turtleneck in matching geometric patterns -- which the designer said is inspired by grand Milanese staircases. Architecture is also reflected in the squared shoulders of a sleeveless dress in a shimmering block-print. Another print has a painterly feel but was inspired by museum-grade plates created by designer Marco Guazzini, who also collaborated on the buttons and belt buckles created from marble dust and wool.
Arbesser said friends and muses joined the models on the runway. ''This is collection is dedicated to Milan, to my friends, to what a stranger says when he comes to Milan,'' the Vienna native said.
PRETTY MINIMALISM AT JIL SANDER
Designing couple Lucie and Luke Meier continue to make minimalist pretty at Jil Sander, defying what may be the conventional view of the fashion movement.
While one might think that minimalism eschews embellishment, the Meiers have managed to incorporate it in wisps of ruffling hemlines and strands of silky fringe that give the eye just bit of candy.
The runway show in a cavernous space that will soon house a new design museum, and wooden chairs lined the interior of the runway, as if to underscore grace in utility.
The color palette remained disciplined monochromes, in pale shades of ivory, egg shell and yellow along side stronger tones of navy blue, black or red, with two uncharacteristic florals. The silhouette ranged to belted jackets on pantsuits, to voluminous bubble coats with the sort of puffy arms that were seen all over this red carpet season.
MILAN SHOWCASES YOUNG AFRICAN DESIGNERS
Abrima Erwiah was inspired by Italy's artisanal heritage to co-found Studio 189, working with craftsman from Ghana and other African nations.
''I just saw what it was like to visit second- and third-generation artisans in Italy,'' said Erwiah, whose father came from Ghana and mother from Mississippi ''People were living with dignity and they could send their kids to school and do all these great things.''
Through the brand founded in 2013, she and her co-founder Rosario Dawson are trying to help be agents of social change in Ghana, where they work with artisanal communities and have a factory.
The Studio 189 collection was one of five presented by young African brands on the sidelines of Milan Fashion Week, along with Gozel Green, Omer Asim, Thebe Magugu and Maison ARTC. The Studio 189 looks included indigo and batik cottons in long, festive silhouettes, like a a multi-tier red and white triangle print with a black-and-white diamond print top.
Erwiah said the Studio 189 business model was built on sustainability and inclusion ''before they were buzz words.''
''I worry about things that are buzz words, because they are cool today and they are not cool tomorrow. Meanwhile I will still be standing there.''