Rick Owens SS 14: the meaning behind the buzz?

25 Flares Twitter 1 Facebook 24 Email -- 25 Flares ×

I’m still not particularly comfortable with writing substantive commentary about fashion or art – I’m weary of misunderstanding something because I have no formal background in either, and I don’t feel ‘qualified’ to do much more than the typically blogger approach of listing things you liked and things you didn’t. But watching the Rick Owens show inspired me to take the time to sit down and to think about what this show really meant. I’d like to think that my lack of fashion knowledge combined with my background in law (which is basically an extended course on analysis, writing and critical thinking) gives me a different perspective?

After the relentless barrage of sleek but generally indistinguishable runway shows featuring unnaturally tall Eastern-European looking types with razor sharp cheekbones from the fashion month that is New York, Paris, London and Milan, I found watching the Rick Owens Spring 2014 show quite jarring. It had me pondering what a runway show really is, or should be to a designer, and what Rick’s motivation for using a stepping dance troupe to model his Spring/Summer 14 collection might have been.

If you haven’t seen the full show (there were lots of Vines and short clips on instagram and twitter from the seats) here it is:

What is a runway show? If it is merely a passive display of clothing, it would all comprise of a silent sushi-train of rotating, faceless mannequins donning collection after collection, so clearly there is more to it than a clothing display. My hypothesis is that a runway show is much broader than the immediate collection – it is a multi-sensory performance where the designer seeks to ‘explain’ the ideas, inspirations, and the raison-d’etre of their label through the choice of models, music, choreography and lighting which puts the immediate collection into context.

If so, what was Rick trying to convey here? Right from the outset the show is confrontational – the precise and purposeful march down the scaffolding (an asides: fuck I love industrial aesthetics) towards the camera, the unyielding percussive rhythm combined with the slightly unnatural choreography gives the distinct impression of an army of aggressive androids advancing towards you. As the dancers get closer and the lighting changes from dim backlighting to full runway show, you see the equally aggressive, jarringly unnatural expressions on the dancers’ faces.

As the choreography becomes more complex and the rhythm starts to build, the dancers turn and face the audience. The usually passive display turns into a two-way interaction – the audience are forced to put down their iPhones to respond to the stoic, angry expressions and the angry rhythmic stomping, presumably by either awkwardly glancing away or by confronting them, meeting the aggression.

New waves of dancers join the ‘frontline’, and the aggression builds as a synth-beat melds into the percussion. This is met by the dancers’ shouts and increasingly twisted facial expressions. The show ends with the dancers forming two human caterpillars who stomp off the stage as the lighting dims and the music continues to blare.

Since the show, Rick Owens has been praised in the media for his use of non-Caucasian models and for using ‘real’ women vs the unnaturally tall and skinny types that are typically cast for runway shows, but I disagree. I don’t think this show addresses the lack of diversity on runways in any meaningful way – the dancers who are predominantly black are portrayed as rigid and intimidating, they aren’t being elevated as a new or alternative ideal of beauty and rarified sophistication to which we should all look up to and aspire to. If anything it does the exact opposite, reinforcing the message that ethnic diversity is nothing more than an exotic oddity or that it firmly belongs to a counter-culture. The same argument applies to the show featuring ‘real’ women.

In putting on this show, I wonder if Rick Owens simply meant to express his contempt at the industry by confronting it head-on, and to convey his approach to fashion –  something along the lines of “nothing is off-limits and I will find beauty wherever I see it”. To me it reads as a “fuck you” to the cultural, ethnic, socio-economic exclusivity on which the fashion industry thrives, hence my gleeful enjoyment from watching it. Equally, I could just be reading into too much, and he was just trying to be provocative. Controversial = media coverage right?

Whatever the intention, Paris Fashion Week is renown for curating the most exquisitely beautiful, rarefied shows and it was refreshing just seeing something different, and something I think anyone could relate to – there is no language in the world more commonly spoken than body-language and facial expressions.

– Chris.


Author: Chris Park

One half of the Park Brothers. Purveyor of banter, curator of misc. Manage comms for @BuoyandMine. Read More

Like our scribblings?