"At the very end of this epic, epic show (a banger of a show, monumental, the show of the season) Rick Owens appeared to take his bow. He was far, far away from the photographers and audience, high, high, high above the Palais de Tokyo’s courtyard at the top of a triple-twist, scaffold-fixed, gantry runway he had built for his models to slowly descend. He looked minuscule, a lean, long-haired dot in the sky.
In his notes Owens said, 'My recent absorption in Land Art—architecture unleashed—is about the human need to try to find order in wilderness . . . maybe as a futile attempt to put a mark on it as a stab at immortality.' The monumental work of Andy Goldsworthy, James Turrell, et al. is absolutely a parable for humankind’s valiant but ultimately bound-to-fail imperative to leave a mark that outlasts it. Yet a far better one is probably the work of a fashion designer, whose work is the artistic equivalent of the luna moth. However bombastic and attention-seeking the setting, the product’s life span is the blink of an eye. For a designer with genuine artistic impulses such as Owens, that must be an interesting bone to gnaw on.
The models took around two minutes each to slowly walk the gantries and staircases that eventually led them to a runway across the low stone pool of the courtyard, down some more stairs again, then backstage. They started out as dots in the distance, like Owens at the end, then slowly loomed up in front of you. At first the clothes were raw and artfully primitive—some shorts (man in his natural state, but not quite) then eight or so looks of technical caveman wear in dull whites and earthy neutrals, all affixed with gauze or pleather modular pods, some accessorized by lumpy bags with oversize survivalist paracord strapping.
Then, evolution. Menswear’s big bang. The pant! Owens’s—at least at first—were prettily tapered with a comely cinch at the waist, worn below torn tank tops that soon evolved into dark fitted shirting. Then we rushed forward again, into a long and fascinating interrogation of the tailored jacket. Why the jacket? Well, as Owens said in those notes, 'I’ve focused on the suit jacket as respectful uniform, as a symbol of civilization, as elegant luggage, as personal aspiration architecture.' To this eye Owens’s tailoring looked like a subversion of all the comfortable, enabling masculine strictures the suit jacket represents—the notion of professionalism defining identity, but suppressing it too. In rough, tough utilitarian mostly black fabrics, they came either delicately shrunken or blown up, always over pants that funneled ever wider down the ankle and were meant to drag 'luxuriantly' on the ground. The jackets were cut with pockets big enough to fit a sandwich: “One of my personal criteria,” Owens said (as if he eats carbs). Around these were sprinkled triple-layer tank tops, each pulled apart to create a sense of looking into and through the garment to the man underneath. The shoes were sneakers with laces held by scattered D-rings, hiker-style, and big badass tractor soles that made you fear for the models as they descended those stairways from above (one slipped, but recovered in time before tumbling).
There aren’t many—or in my experience, any—fashion shows that make you think for a second about existentialism and our place in the world and all that big stuff that drives you crazy. That’s not what fashion shows are for, after all. This was the exception. That monumental set, sadly uncommunicated in runway images, was perhaps the most significant catalyst for this. (Owens said it was inspired by 'Vladimir Tatlin’s tower set to Led Zeppelin’s 'Stairway to Heaven,' ' but it was also reminiscent of Escher’s Relativity.)
Yet the collection—entitled Dirt—was an in-cloth reinforcement of that so-well observed truth that 'Golden lads and girls all must/ As chimney-sweepers come to dust.' All our fancy raiments count not a jot in the end, and if you get too big for your boots—even boots as big as Owens’s—you’ll only end up disappointed. This was a huge show about humility."