Gucci presents otherworldly fall-winter collection in Milan

A model wears a creation part of Annakiki women's Fall/Winter 2017-2018 collection, presented during the Milan Fashion Week, in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Alessandro Michele worked his alchemy at Gucci with otherworldly looks that hewed to his own aesthetic

MILAN — Milan fashion designers launched six days of fall-winter fashion previews Wednesday, as the long-accepted runway format undergoes challenges like never before.

Brands like Gucci and Bottega Veneta sat out last month's menswear previews to combine their efforts this round, while some labels, like Roberto Cavalli, were taking breaks during creative transitions.

Master showmen Dean and Dan Caten, the Canadian twins behind the DSquared2 label, opted for showroom presentations rather than a runway show, allowing a more intimate look at their wares.

Here are some highlights from Wednesday's shows, including Gucci, Fausto Puglisi and No. 21.

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GUCCI ALCHEMIST

In his two years heading the Gucci label, Alessandro Michele has created collections that looked as if they were pulled from an attic trunk. Sheer blouses tied at the neck with a bow, floral suits and proclamations of love accompanied by tiger motifs are instantly recognizable as his, even when copied, which they are, profusely.

If Michele's work to date has been concrete with clear references, his latest collection was otherworldly.

The ambitious, sometimes extreme, collection of 120 looks was viewed through a glass-encased breezeway, a passageway that served as the crossroads for bygone eras and ones yet to come. A pyramid stood at the center, topped with a rooster weather vane, seeing which way the fashion winds blow.

Backstage, Michele said he approaches fashion like an alchemist, hewing to his own aesthetic.

"You take something poor and transform it into gold, into something precious," Michele said.

At his most extravagant, Michele created a hooded robe of ruffles so profuse that it recalled a 17th century barrister's wig, or an adult version of a christening dress. The latter suggestion was ironically undercut by devils-horn jewelry poking out of the nose and crystal-studded lightening-shaped sunglasses. The look befitted a Venetian Carnival ball.

But there was also a snugly fit black dress with a ruffle defining the curves that was as restrained and elegant as anything Michele has created at Gucci.

The vastness of the tour de force collection owed to Michele's decision to show menswear alongside his womenswear collection.

For men, there were shimmery circus strongman suits with tiger motifs on the bottom half and an ab-baring circle cut on the torso. There also were suits with oversized Gucci stripes and a brand-familiar duffel coat.

There was an exoticism to the looks, a meeting of worlds and a pulse of imagination. Collars were pointy or swirly. Headgear ranged from aviator caps to Gucci-emblazoned headbands to enormously brimmed millinery. Umbrellas suggested by turn a Victorian-era stroll or a tropical cocktail on the beach.

But no detail was more otherworldly than crystal-studded masks that completely encased the head like a robber's stocking cap.

"When you dress like this, you don't want to be anything else anymore," Michele said. He was dressed in ripped jeans and a Gucci T-shirt overwritten with the words, "I want to go back to believe in a story."

Michele appears to have settled in at Gucci. After a couple of itinerant seasons showing at a former customs railway, Michele unveiled his latest collection at the new Gucci Hub showroom and offices on the outskirts of Milan.

Florence Welch and rapper ASAP Rocky were in the front row. The artists both read texts by William Blake and Jane Austen on the vinyl LP that served as the show's invitation.

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SOUTHERN VERTIGO

Fausto Puglisi's collection for next fall and winter was part "The Young Pope" and part "Gomorrah," with a streetwear vibe connecting the disparate ecclesiastic and mobster references.

A long black dress gave a priestly silhouette, especially when paired with wide-brimmed clerical saturnos. Puglisi undercut any reverence with high slits and pleating, completing the look with thigh-high tights fastened with garters.

On the mobster side, there were tight-fitting panel dressed laced together with marabou stork feather trim. A multi-tiered dress of red Venetian velvet, acid green quilting and a crystal-studded bodice gave the collection noble opulence.

Heavy black studded shoes grounded the street look, alternating with feathery sandals. The color palate was basic black with flashes of royal red and purple, with some peach, acid green and lavender.

Puglisi titled the collection "Southern Vertigo," a tribute to his southern Italian roots. "We are not all like you," declared the protagonist of a short film that narrated the collection, exploring "the absolute and perhaps violent power of women."

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AMERICAN DREAMING

Alessandro dell'Acqua's collection for No. 21 mixes all-American wholesomeness with Italian sensuality.

Dell'Acqua said he was inspired by Italian actress Anna Magnani, who "exported this Italian way in America, mixing typical Italian clothes with an American style."

The looks included sheer ruffle chiffon dresses with crystal applique accents and slip dresses layered over knitwear cropped radically above the cleavage. Tweet suits and overcoats shimmered, while skirts had poodle-skirt flair without the tired reference. Varsity style sweaters and jackets added an athletic touch.

Satin high-heel sandals with colored ankle socks finished the looks.

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UNSOLVED MYSTERIES

Chinese designer Anna Yang showed her Annakiki line in Milan for the first time, one of six designers making their Milan Fashion Week debut.

Yang said that the collection, both playful and sporty, was an ode to the aliens' world, and the futuristic looks and proportions were fitting for any space traveler.

Silvery iridescent materials defined the collection, giving a space-age feel to blazers with furry pink sleeves or long trailing coats over matching mini-skirts and high boots.

Yang often made sleeves out of proportion, from big puffy accents to trailing cuffs and, in its most extreme, the final look, a red-hooded coat suggestive of an intergalactic fairy tale and featuring an extra six empty sleeves hanging off the front and back. Clearly it is meant for those octopus mutants among us.

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Colleen Barry on Twitter: https://twitter.com/collbarry

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