rick owens set the world on fire for his latest act of creative resistance
Let it all burn.
Photography Mitchell Sams:
For spring/summer 19, the Palais de Tokyo fountain had been drained and turned into a pyre, as Rick Owens erected his own version of Tatlin’s Tower for his parade of all-powerful women, dressed in survival-wear, to encircle and then engulf in flames. Entitled Babel, developing the narrative from the spring/summer 19 men’s show in June, the starting reference was biblical but against the backdrop of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford testifying before the senate committee, we couldn’t help but see this show as a poetic version of K.C. Green’s This Is Fine meme. Today, much of the world feels like it’s already on fire. However, here, unlike the tea sipping dog, Rick was screaming that the world isn’t fine. It was an angry wake-up call.
Rick Owens has created more than a fashion house, it’s a tribe, a family, a world. Its inhabitants are shape-shifting, otherworldly daydreamers that lurk in the darkest corners of our imaginations. Filled with biblical, historical and sociopolitical references, Rick’s collections are so much more than clothes, they provide philosophies to make sense of the world today. The shows are more than just a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it model march, they are experiences of subversion, resistance, strength and creative power.
Now, Rick wouldn’t have known that Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford would be testifying before the senate committee on the day of the show, but the world has been a slow motion car crash that you just can’t look away from for a while now. From Trump to Brexit, Putin to Myanmar, there’s so much to be angry about. Thankfully, no designer deals with anger quite like Rick. Each show attendee received a tote bag filled with modern day survival necessities -- a mini bottle of Mezcal, a bottle of water, a visor, and either a fire fan or spanking paddle, depending on your inclination -- as we watched the world burn.
Rick interpreted the Tower of Babel as a narrative cycle of hope, aspiration, despair, collapse, and destruction. He saw both his personal history and the history of the world too. I’m currently somewhere between aspiration and despair, where are you placed on this cycle? So, just as God struck down the tower -- growing angry at the arrogance of humanity for trying to reach heaven, Rick set his own tower ablaze, playing structure against confusion, and constructivism against chaos in a Brutalist-inspired utopian daydream. The collection itself veered from sculptural sportswear to everyday staples twisted beyond recognition, cut-and-spliced house signatures and otherworldly forms to geometric bodice armour and mini-dresses with silk fringes.
The combined consciousness of this collection was at its most powerful when it was suited in cut-out armour, adorned with scaffolding headpieces and welding flames. The manipulated American dream items, which included pieces crafted out of filthy flags and twisted denim shorts, were just as menacing. Injustice, disillusionment and anger embodied into garments.
After the powerful finale, a protestor stood on one of the corners of the showspace to reveal “trans activism is misogyny” scrawled onto her stomach before being led away -- there were no punches thrown this time, as far as we’re aware. As if we needed another, it served as a reminder that there’s so much to be angry about. Whether they’re here to lead us out of the darkness or just want us to burn it all down, we’re joining Rick’s all-powerful, all-inclusive tribe. After despair, collapse and destruction, we’re back to hope. Thank you Rick Owens.
Photography Mitchell Sams