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5.04.2017

Rick Owens

The ever-implacable fashion industry is churning with change, which some hypothesize as its savior, and others as its demise. In fact, given how that chimes with the black/white, right/wrong politics dominating contemporary culture, perhaps it's symptomatic of the times in which we live. And perhaps that is why Rick Owens is rejecting it. He is a contrarian. "I don't have to do anything I don't want to", he once told me, face inscrutable. "I could just burn the whole fucking place down". Mr Owens was talking, specifically, about his business operation, but it's not difficult to imagine him razing fashion as a whole. That's sometimes what it feels like watching his shows, which are always remarkable. More and more, he distances himself from the rest of the industry by the rare quality that his clothes look entirely, frequently uncompromisingly new. New can mean alien, so barely do they adhere to the tenets of garment history. "They do look like something that isn't finished", he scoffed, sardonically, in his West Coast drawl, of this collection. They did. But is that such a bad thing ? A work in progress is better than no work at all. That illuminated his offering, which bore some relation to fabric freely thrown around a mannequin, randomly captured, and suspended in motion. Rick Owens cited the fine drapery of Madame Grès to describe swags of fabric hurling their way around the body. It was a rare direct fashion reference, although look hard, and you can see echoes of Madame Grès, Charles James and Madeleine Vionnet in Rick Owens' oeuvre.
The American designer is the only one who would assert his clothes look incomplete. For the rest of us, the unity of his vision is one of its most arresting qualities -the entirety of the Owenscorp universe. Mr Owens himself has compared its all-encompassing nature to the lifestyle philosophy espoused Ralph Lauren. But for this season, Rick Owens was preoccupied by his own mistakes -the wrong right, or the right wrong, as he put it. What that lead to were garments that thrashed their way around the body, wide-cut trousers pooling, sleeves dripping off wrists, until a silhouette emerged. It was firm -gazar and duchesse satin don't make for light wearing- high-waisted and wide-legged, sometimes emphasized by swags and globules of fabric, like eviscerated entrails. It felt different. Exciting. Mr Owens grounded that Madame Grès reference by comparing the twisted and pleated fabrics to muscle and tendon, like a medical diagram sketched in jersey by the great couturière. This was, simply, a redesigning not of clothes, but of the human body. That's par for the course for Rick Owens.
He related the change in fashion not to cataclysmic, seismic quakes, but to evolution : slow, deliberate, ultimately for the better, and much much deeper. It's the way you envisage his clothing transforming, season after season, perpetuating the species of Owens rather than just painting its facade every six months. The silhouette shifts, and our perceptions change. What Rick Owens does is most persuasive, most extraordinary, in menswear. Maybe that's because what he is doing is audacious, at the very best of times. Today, it often feels like the worst of times, when the landscape of contemporary masculine attire is dominated by banality. It's simple Darwinism. Survival of the fittest. Rick Owens will be around long after fashion's perhaps inevitable apocalypse. It's difficult to think of any designer who will revel in the creative possibilities of that to a greater extent. Problem is : who buys these costumes ?

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