Karl Lagerfeld liked to gently poke fun at fashion designers who moved through life dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, and not what they put on the runway, likening them to chefs who won’t eat their own cooking.
Rick Owens stood backstage on Thursday morning on the same towering platform boots as the models, the same ragged denim skirt and one of his inimitable square bomber jackets, grooving to the Brutalismus 3000 pounding from the speakers.
And what tumbled out of his mouth when asked about the show was as exhilarating, intelligent and subversive as the 50 looks that stalked a raised catwalk of industrial scaffolding, silver pipes belching disco fog underneath.
Owens noted that he’s been dressing in the vein of his fall 2023 collection recently, and realized his penchant for “almost a Victorian” silhouette was a reflection of our prim times, when free and creative expression is suppressed in a cancel culture with rampant mudslinging under the guise of morality.
“But it’s not new. It’s why the Romans were throwing the Christians to the lions. There’s always been violence, morality and blood-thirst all happening all at the same time,” he said. “We’re also trying to do a good job during a war.”
Make that an excellent job. Owens unfurled a host of new shapes, most of them roomy and even expansive: hulking batwing shearling coats; wedge-shaped tops and tailoring; jersey capes clenched to the chest and then swinging free; bulbous bomber jackets in recycled fish skin, and terrific peacoats with an architectural flair.
Some models wore contact lenses that blacked out their eyes, or had black paint slashed across their eyes and cheeks. Denim came stained and thoroughly shredded. Yet underneath the industrial-strength dystopia lurked romance, dignity and a brand of dark elegance that is Owens’ alone.
“I don’t know anybody who is going to be able to tell the difference between this somberness and my usual somberness,” he said with a chuckle backstage.
The designer sees his edgy fashions as a form of silent protest that disrupts and widens aesthetic and cultural norms. So if kids in the midwest of America are now wearing low-crotch pants and platform shoes without ridicule, he’s chuffed to have moved the needle on the status quo and nudge people “toward another way of thinking, toward being more open.”
“That’s kind of the whole point of my life — trying to blur the edges of what is acceptable, or what is outlandish, or what is grotesque,” he said. “There is such a strident moral force in the world. There’s got to be careful perverts like me that balance that out.”