rick owens rebels against donald trump by celebrating his own mexican-american dream
“I’ve been motivated to explore my personal Mexicanness as a reaction to the US President’s fixation on a border wall.”
Photography Sam Hellmann
“It’s the Mexican-American dream in platform boots,” Rick Owens told i-D in the moments after his spring/summer 20 show, dressed in a tank top and platforms. Adding to the “clenched-teeth, all-out glam” Larry LeGaspi-inspired acts of resistance of recent seasons, the California-born, Paris-based designer wanted to drown out the noise of President Trump, and he managed it. As he explored his dual-heritage childhood, Rick presented a show that celebrated Mexican craft and creativity, and highlighted the struggle of immigrant workers.
“The Wall”, famously, was the pledge Trump built his provocative presidential campaign on. “I will build a great wall ― and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me ―and I’ll build them very inexpensively,” he said back in June 2015. “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” Well, we all know what happened next. Thankfully though, despite two and a half years in the White House, no wall has been built. Yet, Trump persists with his caps lock tweet pledges. “I’ve been motivated to explore my personal Mexican-ness as a reaction to the US President’s fixation on a border wall,” Rick’s self-penned show notes explained. As the border blurring collection, entitled Tecuatl -- after his grandmother’s Mixtec maiden name -- revealed itself to the Palais de Tokyo, any wall talk was drowned out by the sound of his “beautiful wife” Michele Lamy’s band, Lavascar, playing an extended mix of Acceleration accompanied by four Danza Azteca ceremonial musicians.
“I was raised in southern California by an Anglo father and Native Mexican mother,” Rick explained. Many of the designer's best collections have revealed something autobiographical about its maker, and this awkward glam-rock collection is no different -- even though it’s difficult to envision the ripped icon was a child. “My mother and I learned English together when she started taking me to nursery school. My father worked in the Porterville Public Court system as a translator for the Mexican migrant farm workers that were a major part of the San Joaquin agricultural industry.”
Today, Rick used his platform to fly the United Farm Workers flag and raise awareness to the struggles it represented during his youth. With permission to do so by the United Farm Workers Association, its Aztec eagle motif featured on T-shirts and overshirts, proceeds of which will benefit their continuing efforts.
The link with United Farm Workers was just one of many thought-provoking collaborations. Another happened by chance when Rick discovered that his spring/summer 20 show would weave around a sculpture by Thomas Houseago. He contacted the Leeds-born, LA-based artist and the pair worked on building the show set made out of his studio clay. After the show, we subsequently discovered it would be donated to the École des Beaux-Arts’ sculpture students; oh so Rick. In the collection itself, a selection of Houseago labelled garments and runners were mega-laced with either black wax or a white wax finish to echo the textures of his work.
Elsewhere, driven by memories of his Mexican cousins wearing Champion tees and shorts when he visited them in the 70s, Rick reimagined its sportswear as togas, loincloths and briefs, while using a monochrome version of its iconic logo on a capsule collection of T-shirts, sweatshirts and windbreakers. He also built on last season’s unexpected collaboration with environmentally friendly sneaker brand Vega, unveiling a new hiking sneaker in greyscale and asymmetrical details which featured alongside glam platform boots and earthy sandals. Rick always likes to surprise.
Although undeniably political, this was a deeply personal collection that revealed much about Rick. “I continue with a sharp-shouldered tailored silhouette, at times covered in bright sequins like the folkloric China Poblana skirts my mom wore in school pageants growing up in Puebla, Mexico,” he explained. Filled with biblical, historical and sociopolitical references, Rick Owens’s collections are always much more than clothes, they provide philosophies to make sense of the world today. His shows are always offer more than just a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it model march, they are experiences of subversion, resistance, strength and creative power. This was one of his most political, personal and powerful yet.
Photography Sam Hellmann