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11.04.2016

Rick Owens

Dinosaurs and tar pits, evolution, art nouveau, and the primordial ooze. Rick Owens creates clothes that look like no one else’s because he sublimates into his garments themes that other designers wouldn’t touch. For this season, he recounted that his partner Michèle Lamy had begun keeping bees on the rooftop of the Brutalist concrete mausoleum they call home; he thought it was an instinctive response to environmental change. 2015 was the hottest year since records began. Those kind of facts got Rick Owens thinking "about the ecological anxiety we are all feeling. What is the worst possible scenario ?" Total and utter annihilation, of course. Going the way of the dinosaurs -which is why the collection was called "Mastodon" and featured a parade of truly Jurassic parkas. And suits, and bombers, and the dresses-for-dudes that the Paris-based American designer somehow makes look viable. Postapocalyptic isn’t exactly uncharted territory for him; his battered and tattered clothes and whey-faced models tend to evoke the notion of not only teetering on the brink, but hurtling headfirst into the abyss. And yet, even for him, the suppurating sheepskin garments seeping around his models' bodies, like magma melting and melding body parts together, were disquieting. I’ve heard of "fluid" clothing before, but this was something else entirely, in shades of black, chalk white, American tan, and corpse gray. There was lots of shearling. It had the thick, spongy texture you’d imagine of flayed flesh. Fluidity was a theme Rick Owens ran with, clothing pooling and bubbling around the torso, trickling around the legs. "I want to say I vomited this out", he mused backstage, before allowing that most people react unfavorably to that verb. Particularly when they’re wearing it; a series of garments were graphically splattered with bleach or paint. Sometimes, the ooze surrendered a real garment, like a heffalumping, glutinous mass of mohair in an intestinal puce from which a strictly tailored sportswear hood emerged, near perfectly formed, to define the garment as a coat. The contrast was telling : it’s tough to chart evolution (or devolution) if you’ve nothing to compare it with. So the other story here was of tailored volume, of couture control, inspired by the historical volume-pumpers of panniers and bustles. "Pageantry with cloth", was Rick Owens's term, explaining the cargo pockets that plumped out his silhouettes. "How do I do volume in a men’s collection ? Volume in a way that could pass". His cargo pockets were huge, his hemlines wide, topped with skinny jackets either elongated or cropped, in both senses emphasizing the voluminous pant.
Rick Owens is the best analyst of his own clothing, which is rare among fashion designers, a bunch who are generally reticent to put their work into words. It would be tough, without him as tour guide, to navigate prehistory and climate change, and wind up at a barfy bunch of coats. Nevetheless, it makes perfect sense. It also isn’t the whole story. The most telling notion on display here, under those liquifying layers, was of timeliness -of his clothing relating to a wider geological picture, a reaction to the time in which they were created. I couldn’t help but think of the bustle, and Victorian prurience : the lifting of the death penalty for "buggery" in England in 1861 near-coincided with the bustle’s inflation; Oscar Wilde's trial in 1895 came shortly after the second (and last) revival of the style. Rick Owens’s clothes were, on the one hand, violent -they looked disemboweled, prolapsed, eviscerated. But there was also something protective about the sloppy down-jackets wrestling about the body, the sheepskins fused together as if protecting your flank. "Hope for the best", the designer shrugged. "But prepare for the worst". Sage advice.

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