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Paris Day Four: Dressing With Abandon

The fearlessness of Rick Owens and Daniel Roseberry at Schiaparelli ought to be inspirational for the fashion industry, writes Tim Blanks.
Rick Owens Spring/Summer 2024.
Rick Owens Spring/Summer 2024. (Indigital)

PARIS — You can find the genesis of the new Rick Owens show in the 1888 painting “The Roses of Heliogabalus” by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. It depicts an event notorious in ancient history, when the young Roman emperor Heliogabalus suffocated the guests at one of his banquets with tons of rose petals. Rose petals have been on Owens’s mind for a while. “But I didn’t have enough of them to kill everybody,” he said before his show on Thursday. Instead, long vacuum tubes pooted petals out onto the audience, scattering them over the reflecting pool and adjoining areas, and eventually diffusing the show space with an intoxicating scent. All the while, billowing clouds of purple and yellow smoke obscured the monumental backdrop of the Palais de Tokyo.

It was a typically stunning combination of classical reference and contemporary spectacle. And in the midst of it was a collection that was quite the match of the visual drama. From the black leather goddess gown that opened the show to the voluminous jumpsuit in red silk gazar that closed it, the show was one of Rick’s most exacting exercises in silhouette. Pants came with the same super-high waistlines he debuted in his men’s collection in June. “The waistline is a conservative focus,” he acknowledged. “But I’m looking for new ways to express discipline and rigour.”

Owens didn’t have to look too far. The rest of the collection made a feature of tight, elevated shoulders (some with stubs that resembled vestigial wings), second-skin fishtail skirts, swathes of swaddling fabric that dipped and swooped in ways so precise they might require an instruction manual, and his signature lucite-heeled boots now reconfigured with orthopaedic padding. There are times when an Owens collection looks like a blast from the antique past and others when they seem more like a vision of a distant, pagan future. This was one of the latter, wrapped in swirling silk wind coats.

My favourite thing about a Rick Owens show is our backstage chat, which I usually leave with some rare and precious insight into the psyche of one of fashion’s most unique creative souls.

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We were talking about the music for this presentation, a remix of Diana Ross’s last single “I Still Believe,” a perky piece of perfectly disposable pop which, in Rick’s stripped back, slowed down remix, was transmogrified into a thundering aural assault, a techno hymn. “Her voice sounds so fragile when it’s isolated,” he mused. “A woman of 79, singing about still believing in love.”

We segued into Marlene Dietrich, another of Rick’s favourite divas. He marvelled about the arc of her career. “Dignified all the way from silly movies to social responsibility during World War II to the cabaret act, just her and a spotlight and Burt Bacarach. She maintained great dignity, looked her age, wasn’t overtly sexual, didn’t demand as much attention as before. How do I make that transition?” Owens paused reflectively. “I might be going into my Marlene Dietrich period.” On the evidence of this wonderful collection, I think he’s still got some way to go.

I imagine Daniel Roseberry asking himself similar questions decades hence. He won’t always be swinging from the Elsa Schiaparelli star, but that is what’s defining him at the moment. And he is wondering how to disrupt the pattern that is settling into place. His couture has been all about what he calls “the hard chic” of Schiaparelli tradition. With his second ready-to-wear collection, he was talking about “an ode to youth, something that felt more American, a juxtaposition of my ‘American-ness’ with the DNA of the house.” Less about Elsa, more about Zoran, the designer memorably defined by The New York Times as “The Wizard of Ease.”

That’s not exactly how things worked out with the show. True, there was the arrival of sneakers, often celebrated as the advance guard of a radical casual spirit (witness Chanel and Dior’s Spring 2014 haute couture collections). But Roseberry was also working with Guido Palau and Pat McGrath, the superstar hair and makeup team, and he said that made it impossible not to lean into some major storytelling. “Ready-to-wear is more character-driven that haute couture,” he said. Which meant that the “ode to youth” was sidelined by hyper-stylised vignettes: Shalom Harlow in a broad-shouldered micro-dress playing Yves Saint Laurent’s favourite house model; Maggie Maurer as Linda Evangelista in her blonde phase; a couple of Darryl Hannahs from the days when the actress made regular appearances in Vogue Paris; and Kendall Jenner making her second appearance this season as a bouffant-ish refugee from the “Valley of the Dolls.”

The clothes obviously rose to each and every occasion. Credit Roseberry’s years at Thom Browne. God was always in the details there, as They were here. There was an arch visual wit in the faux lacquered spill of a bottle of nail polish, or the spray of trompe l’oeil cigarette butts. A model in a swimsuit was caked with “sand” (McGrath’s glitter). Elsa’s original Dali-designed lobster was writ very large as a ceramic neckpiece. One model’s face was covered with glittering filaments. Maybe her character was someone from “X-Men.”

When Roseberry started at Schiaparelli in 2019, he considered his brief to be “Dressing for the End of the World.” Dressing with abandon. Then came Covid and the prospect that the end of the world might actually be at hand, which obviously didn’t happen (yet). Still, it looks like Schiap is hoping to dress with abandon. “I feel there are cold designers and there are warm designers, and I am so not a cold designer,” said Roseberry. “There’s a fleshiness to this.” But there was a lingering overwrought something. Something that still needed untwisting. I imagined everything tied in a great big sack and dragged down a country road for a while. Break it all in. At the show, Roseberry himself looked and sounded more relaxed than I’ve ever seen him. He’s clearly on the road to find out.

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About the author
Tim Blanks
Tim Blanks

Tim Blanks is Editor-at-Large at The Business of Fashion. He is based in London and covers designers, fashion weeks and fashion’s creative class.

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