PARIS, France — The message of the Rick Owens show was loud and clear: she ain’t heavy, she’s my sister. The women on his catwalk carried other women artfully attached to their bodies. As strenuous as this exercise surely was — even for the gymnasts and athletes these women were — there was no visible sense of effort. It was an emotional metaphor for the selflessness and community — the instinctive supportiveness that Owens wanted to celebrate. He had Euripides’ “The Trojan Women” on his mind, the banding together, the resilience in the face of adversity. There was even a classical Greek chorus in the form of London chanteuse Eska and her back-up singers. They performed the title song from Exodus: “This land is mine, God gave this land to me.” The lyrics took on a whole new weight in light of the show’s theme.
Grace under pressure — that’s always been a favourite subject of Owens’. “It’s every bit as valid and beautiful as a bright red lip,” he said pointedly, in reference to fashion’s more conventional ways of presenting itself. He, on the other hand, has opted for an often fierce-some physicality, which reflects the intensely autobiographical nature of his work. “I’ve used myself as a mascot for the brand,” Owens said, acknowledging the way he has physically transformed himself from tip to toe. (That’s a before-and-after visual we crave!)
The same principle found a particularly graphic expression in his latest collection, in the way that the clothes extended the shoulders, the hips and the elbows. It sounds hard-edged, but the power of the concept actually seemed to inspire Owens to a lyricism in the clothes. True, his models were wearing gladiator sandals, but there was no aggression in the way he draped fabric to distort his silhouettes: definite with the jut of lacquered leather, softer with swells of bias-cut organza. Volumes flowed and curved around the body. And then, of course, there was the dramatic drape of a second human form.
One pairing was particularly striking. A diminutive black woman bore another woman suspended upside down in front of her. Their hands were tightly clasped, a necessary gesture of physical support perhaps, but at the same time, a moving expression of commonality. Though it’s hardly the first time Owens has stirred our emotions, it’s impressive the way he continues to infuse his shows with such depth. “I see the stores full of boxy jackets and a-line skirts and I want to see an explosion, I want to see something flung,” he sighed. “Watch me fling.” So we did.