“I wanted it to be Avedon-worthy,” Rick Owens said backstage at his fall 2023 show, as models were outfitted with sequin gowns matched with big, squishy, duvet-filled donuts. “I wish that was my dress Dovima was wearing with the elephants. Anyway, this is my version.”
While he charted a more alternative career path, the American designer has always set the bar high for himself — even more so this season as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine passed the one-year marker, setting the world on edge.
“I wanted to do something that is so respectful of that. It’s not like this helps in any way, but cultural aesthetics are what survive wars and cultural aesthetics are an important factor and what needs protecting. My job is to present the most excellent thing I can do,” he mused backstage over the Brutalismus 3000 blaring from the speakers.
“A lot of time clothes are things we want to project indifference, or aloofness, or carelessness, or status,” he continued. “I thought, ‘I just want something that is more earnest.'”
With Avedon in mind, he set about ensuring more polished hair and makeup, including stiff, sculptural ponytails — as well as bald heads and blacked-out eyeballs.
As for the clothes, he described them as simple, since “simplicity is the most elegant thing I can think of.”
They were austere, to be sure, but also arresting and inventive. He found a way to merge a puffer jacket with a babydoll dress; to shred denim so expertly that it resembles feathers, and to grow his spiky shoulders so that they rise beyond the top of the head and hug the face.
There was lots of black, including knitted capelets that hugged the shoulders, and tube dresses slashed up one side and trailing a long, lopsided train that occasionally got tangled up in the raised catwalk rigging.
But then came the matte sequins, in gold, silver, grape, grape-leaf green and a lipstick pink, which Owens carved into undulating capes, boxy T-shirts, minimalist coats, fishtail gowns and those doughnut-like garlands. They were all dazzling.
Speaking of earnest, Owens never touts himself as any benchmark in terms of sustainability, but he’s doing his best. To wit, his show notes are now taken up with descriptions of certified recycled cashmere and polyamide, responsible wool and vegetal tanning.
They remain extremely trenchant and moving, much like Owens’ fashions: “Times like these might call for a respectful formality and sobriety with moments of delicacy as reminders of what is at risk and at stake.”