Alessandro Dell'Acqua claimed that his pre-fall collection for No. 21 took shape somewhere between the sixties and the nineties. Maybe there was something sixties student about a double-breasted coat-dress, baby kitten heels, chunky knits, and a boyfriend's varsity jacket or big tweed coat. Perhaps that was indeed the nineties in the collection's strict, sexy minimalism. But really, it was all about the design signature that Dell'Acqua has created for himself. Its keynote has always been tension, as basic as that between masculine and feminine dress codes, or, most graphically, the front of a garment and the back. So he cut a bomber from a masculine check and added a black lace back, or paired the same check with neoprene in a trench. Or he based a black knit on a fireman's sweater but made sure the back buttoned like a blouse.

Black lace (often matched to a flesh tone) and neoprene were the perfect foundation stones for yet another example of the designer's fetishization of buttoned-up bourgeois dressing. The primness that barely conceals a womanly dark side is Dell'Acqua's Milanese version of Belle de Jour. No. 21's local success suggests there were plenty of bad belles ready to follow him from his own label. But there was something a little more girlish about this particular collection, as in a skating skirt matched to a pop top and blouson, or all the other big tops and short skirts. If it wasn't exactly fresher, it had more of a kick than usual.