As an alien-esque model enters the runway with a woman dangling casually from her back, I have to remind myself of what it is that I am watching. While Rick Owens has always been known for his anarchic approach—what Vogue once called his “joyous assault on fashion orthodoxy”—nothing could have prepared stunned onlookers for his latest Spring 2016 collection, recently exhibited at Paris Fashion Week. In stark contrast to the sophisticated and complex designs presented by the more traditional fashion houses, designer Rick Owens sent models down the catwalk in a way that they have never been sent before; on top of one another, double-decker style.
Strapped to one another in positions as unique and compromising as the clothes that they were wearing, models plodded past the front row in what Owens called an accolade to female strength. And while the performance may have seemed, at times, a little awkward and disconcerting, there was a message to be read amid the avant-garde contortion.
“There was an Annie Leibovitz image of Leigh Bowery carrying his wife Nicola in a harness they would use for a birthing performance that I always loved. It was transgressive and sweet at the same time. I thought doing it with women would be a nice interpretation and developed other poses from there,” the designer said.
The women’s spring collection was entitled Cyclops—Owens explained— a mythical creature, formidable, with a focused vision. And focused his models certainly were, concentrating closely as they carried one another across the stark, concrete runway. And while Vogue playfully dubbed the hanging models “human knapsacks,” there was a little more to it than that.
“I see [my collection] being more about nourishment, sisterhood/motherhood and regeneration; women raising women, women becoming women and women supporting women—a world of women I know little about and can only attempt to amuse in my own small way,” Owens mused in a published press release.
But there was beauty behind the bondage, too. Delicate tunics and boxers were teamed with seamlessly cutaway coats that featured narrow, harshly defined shoulders, showing off the models’ slender silhouettes. And in true Rick Owens style, softer looks were juxtaposed with what the designer described as the classic rigour of simple flight jackets, hooded windbreakers and sleeveless biker jackets, all in varying weights of black leather.
Reading reviews of Owens’ Paris show it is evident that not everybody is impressed. What some have heralded as moving, disquieting and impressive, others have passed off as yet another of the designer’s access-all-areas catwalk stunts. But while the display of entangled, en-strapped models might not have been everybody’s cup of tea, you can’t deny Rick Owens’ power of provoking conversation. We may never know what the “godfather of brutal chic” was actually thinking, but what we can say is that we’ve seen something at Paris Fashion Week that is indisputably unique. And in a world where repetition is rife and originality is rare, isn’t that enough?
Watch the Rick Owens Spring 2016 Show below: