The stunning news that Jean Paul Gaultier was discontinuing his ready-to-wear operations has the fashion world waxing introspective, wondering if that final curtain confirms the demise of the perception of the fashion show as a unique, entertaining and personal experience. But then, in the heyday of Gaultier in the 1980s and 1990s, the very notion of a handheld device to both take pictures and communicate with the world was just mad-scientist fare. Before the digital era, designers had to woo an audience of professionals.
The last couple of years, Rick Owens has managed to stage shows that offer exactly what Gaultier so magically delivered: the unexpected. He’s brought an obscure rapper into the limelight, had a wild Estonian band perform gravity-defying acrobatics, hired those now-legendary sorority dancers, and rounded up several generations of models. And all the while producing memorable clothes. After such exceptional fashion moments, his latest outing, a kind of B-side to the Nijinsky-inspired men’s show in June, felt like a pause. Even the normally aggressive underground techno soundtrack was replaced by a mellifluous piano concerto by the late Polish composer Wojciech Kilar.
While working on the collection, Owens said he wondered what the brutalist master of concrete, Marcel Breuer, would build with tulle. The inquiry produced frothy yet structured creations made almost entirely from pleated and folded tulle. The technical wizardry appeared on sleeveless A-line dresses and tunics in tender, powdery Leon Bakst hues, often adorned with geometric patterns and occasionally paired with an hourglass, strapless silhouette. Particularly inventive were shorts that ended with kerchief hemlines, a major theme. The show also struck a balance between its primitive elements — white-powdered skin, frizzy hair, noisy and dented platform shoes — and sculptural effect, most notably in the finale of multiple-sleeve jackets.
For all its merits, the collection didn’t quite reach the heights of Owens’ recent masterpieces. But he seems to be honing his message, suggesting that he has more surprises in store.