An intense, powerful spring show by Rick Owens proved that the headline-making machine the American designer has become shows no signs of slowing down. This rapid-fire ride is wondrous to behold. Only he — and possibly a handful of his counterparts — is capable of eliciting real surprise, the kind that has you sit transfixed, forgetting to take notes. And surely the audience who crammed into the gritty, cavernous underground of the Palais de Tokyo didn’t expect to see a collection highlighted by what can best be described as human baggage.
How else could one describe the sight of models carrying women umbilically tied by straps? The baggage assumed all sorts of postures, ranging from the dramatic to the fetal to the crucificial, their hair falling to the floor, their feet emulating arms, their expressionless, upside-down faces worryingly turning crimson. It made for arresting and disturbing allegorical images, hinting at torture and burden, both emotionally and physically. Apparently the black-clad staff who stood sentinel on the runway were there to ensure the models’ safety. At times, things verged on the kinky, as some positions suggested Kama Sutra acrobatics.
The show, titled Cyclops, like Owens’ men’s outing in July, was conceived as an exploration of that mythological creature, known for its one eye and focused vision. So for him, the Siamese-like appearance of the models was meant to promote sisterhood, motherhood, and regeneration — “women raising women, women becoming women, and women supporting women,” he said in his program notes. He likened the straps to “loving ribbons.” The wonderful live performance by the British singer Eska, belting out a soulful This Land, heightened the poignancy of the spectacle.
The bonding theme inevitably echoed his unforgettable spring 2014 show, starring American sorority groups. As in that show, Owens promoted shorter hemlines, on silk and organza dresses that were draped and bunched, often sporting a metallic sheen. Touches of orange brightened the otherwise neutral and black palette. But the effect wasn’t sunny, especially since these dresses were worn with sturdy, strappy, thick-soled sandals, while the black elongated jackets that opened the show were worn with martial black boots. They gave the show a balance between arty performance and commercial viability.