Girl Power. Real and raw, with no trace of sugar-coated cartoon superheroines. That was the main takeaway from Rick Owens’ heart-pumping, foot-stomping, awe-inspiring show.

Instead of traditional models, Owens enlisted women from four American college step teams — the Zetas, Washington Divas, Soul Steppers and Momentums. Each came down the massive set’s staircase clapping and thumping in the style of the energetic dance form with roots in African-American fraternities and sororities, and they were deliberately making angry faces. Pretty, in the traditional fashion sense of the word, was surely not the point, but the cool, almost tribal effect energized the crowd. Owens, for his part, had a more personal subtext in mind.

“Step teams are an American phenomenon,” he said backstage after the show. “My aesthetic has always been about an American’s interpretation of European glamour. To put these girls on the Parisian runway was a culmination of everything I do.”

Accordingly, he designed clothes that reflected his design ethos, but executed them in a manner suited to nonmodels and intense activity. He downplayed his Goth proclivities in favor of martial arts influences with a street vibe, and often went heavy on leather. He draped and layered many of his hooded looks with warrior impact (George Lucas, take note). Sneakers from his Adidas collaboration added to the lineup’s athletic feel.
But it really wasn’t so much about the clothes. For the finale, the young women formed a human caterpillar that snaked off the runway. As Owens put it, “It was a great example of American teamwork.”

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