Ladies and gentlemen, behind the hard-edge exterior of Rick Owens lies the tender soul of a couturier. That was the takeaway from the tour de force of glamour (and grotesque, courtesy of the makeup designed by body mod star Salvia) the designer presented for fall, with a nod to the rock band Kiss, of all things.
Owens has been working on a book about Larry LeGaspi, the Seventies-era New York designer who created costumes for Grace Jones, Funkadelic and most notably Kiss, and had a formative influence on young Rick when he was growing up in dusty Porterville, Calif., with black leather pants and platform shoe dreams. “He helped set a lot of kids like me free,” he said.
Meanwhile, Owens also wrote the preface for the newly published tome “Charles James: The Couture Secrets of Shape,” with an exhibition open for the next two weeks in Paris. The two men, LeGaspi and James, who actually knew each other and shared models in New York, were the aesthetic pillars for Owens’ runway contrast of raw sensuality and couture classicism, with a bit of rock ’n’ roll thrown in. (The lightning bolt motif used on Kiss costumes showed up as a charm dangling from red leather bags, pouches and duffel bags with straps long enough that they could be worn as capes.)
Of LeGaspi, who also inspired his men’s collection shown in January, Owens said backstage: “He introduced graphic commedia dell’arte, Kabuki, Seventies sex, bombast and testosterone all in one package wrapped in black and silver Art Deco.…The fact that he was a gay designer doing camp clothes for a black soul group and then Kiss that infiltrated Middle America is incredible,” adding that the book out later this year will be in LeGaspi’s own words taken from his diaries, along with interviews from others who knew him. “It’s really the story of a generation we lost,” he said of the designer, who died of AIDS in 2002.
On the runway, the story lines played out as a dialogue between glam rock (sharp shoulders and sharper platform-heeled boots that made the models look like they had insect legs) and all-out glam (sculpted and draped jewel-tone gowns and skirts that are the stuff of Hollywood fantasies). “My recent collections have been very gloomy and I’ve been whining and complaining a lot,” Owens said, noting his displeasure with the state of the world. “In my resistance, I’m going all-out glam.”
He started off with some of the most classic tailoring he has done in some time, including a cherry red coat that was a vision of cutting precision with rounded, pronounced shoulders, and another mahogany-hued, two-button blazer with sloping shoulders. Both were worn with sexy leather or ribbed bodysuits underneath for a look that was rock-raunchy in the best way, at least until that red leather jumpsuit came out hotter than hell.
The focus on the shoulder continued through outerwear that included covetable duvet coats spliced with seams of silver cowhide and padded with nylon pouch pockets for a raw, street edge, as well as cocoon coats Owens himself described as James knockoffs with “Bauhaus shoulders” he traces to the Thirties futuristic film “Metropolis,” rendered in shearling, fur or nylon puffer.
The brand’s signature draped gowns were composed of braided jersey in Fortuny prints, wrapping the curves in soft layers, with trailing ends. Most surprising of all though were the finale looks, draped, cut and sculpted at the shoulders and hips to statuesque perfection. With them, Fortuny and James may have met their modern-day match.