Racial and size diversity, two casualties of the modern fashion system, were addressed head-on in Rick Owens' show, lifting it above almost anything we've seen in years. It was a performance so powerful it ended with shrieks and whistles of the sort we used to hear when John Galliano and Alexander McQueen took the fashion world by storm. Boy, was it fabulous.
In lieu of his usual gothic, lanky models, out came an army of stout, mostly black women. With angry pouts, they hit their chests the way a warrior would before entering a battle. They descended the giant scaffolding like automated soldiers, some wearing headscarves that bordered on the religious and heightened the mystical, ritualistic atmosphere.
Once on the runway, they performed disciplined moves that energetically melded tap dance, African steps, and marching, all while championing the four American college sororities they're a part of: Soul Steppers, Washington Divas, Zetas and Momentums.
The idea to bring these dancers to a Paris runway came to Rick last june, after he stumbled upon them on YouTube. He contacted the choreography team of LeeAnet Noble and her mother Lauretta Malloy, who together masterminded the perfomance. They trained for months, arriving from New York City days ago with 40 other dancers in tow. "Vicious" was what Owens asked them to achieve and the name of the collection.
Any runway spectacle runs the risk of overshadowing the garments, but there was news on the fashion front as well. There was a newfound zest and athletic edge to his clothes, which looked more graphic and crisp then ever, presented in groups of white, beige, and black. Yet there were several Owens trademarks, such as draping, the religious headscarves, zippered leather jackets, sci-fi sneakers in collaboration with Adidas, and even the frizzy geometric hairdos he showed in his Klimt-inspired show last year.
But as the hemlines were short, and the girls' bodies full and toned, we got to see his work in a new light. And in the midst of the endless debate about diversity in fashion, the show served as a potent demand for action.
So here's a designer who, after all these years, makes the best of modern technology, reaches out to obscure artists or movements, and seamlessly incorporates them into his singular world. Few designers achieve this today. Maybe that's because Owens has what Galliano and McQueen had: independence, financial and otherwise.