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You’ve got to love a Rick Owens show note. Where most designers hedge around with influences, citing esoteric artists or tone poems as their muse, the 56-year-old US designer is transparently honest from the off.
“I have knocked off a Charles James cocoon coat and reinterpreted it in raw-seamed shearling, nutria and duvet,” he announced of just one of the details of his AW19 show. He also admitted to having done the same with “my cheap giftshop snowboarder sunglasses that I had fitted with my reading prescription and turned them back into sunglasses”.
Owens’ show was busy with references and brilliant with ideas. It claimed a panoply of influences but remained terrifically, unquestionably, his own. It was named Larry, for Larry LeGaspi, the costume director best known for dressing Grace Jones and Kiss and who, in the Seventies, Owens argues, “helped set a lot of kids like me free”. Owens has just written a book about LeGaspi (due out in October) and remains a fan of, among other things, the designer’s camp exuberance and “sweaty elegance” — he had used LeGaspi’s famous lightning bolt motif as a charm.
The same glam-rock sensibility also informed the collection’s Seventies stack-heeled boots, leather jumpsuits and “sleazy” micro-shorts, a rare touch of nostalgia for a man who likes to march to his own tune. The shoulders, as at so many houses this season — from Isabel Marant to Saint Laurent — were a major feature. Here they were exaggerated, sculptural and sky high. It all contributed to what Owens describes as the “new Diamond Dogs glamour”, (after the David Bowie album of that name). And it was lent extra weirdness by the involvement of prosthetic make-up artist Salvia, who pushes the body modification aesthetic in her work. Many of the models had grown strange facial mutations, and peered from the catwalk with black eyes.
If the facial disfigurations were disquieting, the clothes were rather tame; this was an unusually accessible collection for Owens, who ordinarily loves a massive quilt duvet or a giant wool cocoon. Here were lovely blazers, leather trousers, furry jackets and drapey, jersey gowns. For his print, the designer had worked with the Venice fabric specialists Fortuny whom he had visited from his summer studio in Giudecca to borrow prints from its archive. They were delightful.
As for Charles James, it’s hard to imagine how he might have ended up in this same mutant sartorial soup. Owens had an explanation for that also: he has written the foreword for a new book about the US couturier, and mounted an exhibition in his honour after opening the show.
In many ways Owens is James’s natural successor. He has the same drive to push the silhouette, the same sense of drama and a loyal tribe of fans. Owens has built an independent business that makes about $140m in revenues each year — and there’s nothing quirky about that.
The coat in question was spectacular. Nutria, if you didn’t know, refers to the silvery fur of a semi-aquatic rodent known as the coypu, which is basically a rat. As with lots of things at this Rick-y horror show, it sounds utterly disgusting but it looked surprisingly good.
Jo Ellison will be hosting the FT’s Business of Luxury Summit in Madrid on May 19-21. For more information visit ftbusinessofluxury.com
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