Phlegethon. Rick Owens SS21

Rick Owens‘ spring-summer 2021 is fire. And not just because we’ve finally saw his killer shoulder and platform boots in bubble-gum pink. The story behind it, the untamed fierceness of it, the sexuality – it’s really, really good. “Let’s get biblical” – the designer was FaceTiming from the Venice Lido, on the street that separates the Lido Casino from his favorite beach. He was watching the rehearsal for his spring 2021 women’s show, whose name, Phlegethon, he ripped from Greek mythology. Phlegethon was one of the five rivers of the Underworld, less famous than the Styx, but just as deadly. In Dante’s Inferno, it was a river of blood that boiled souls. Even at the remove of the Lido – a two-hour drive from his Italian factory that he describes as completely quiet and provincial – Owens has a preternatural gift for tapping into the collective unconscious and amplifying it in the most propulsive and cinematic of ways. He sees the hellscape that is the current world situation – COVID-19, irreversible global warming, the U.S. presidential race, you name it – and responds with defiant bravado. In his press notes, he used the words “grim gaiety.” On the phone he referred to the way French women’s hats became more extreme during World War II as a subtle way of taunting their German occupiers. “We can think of clothes as frivolous or we can think of clothes as one of our first steps towards communicating with other people, which is a powerful thing,” Owens said. “Clothes don’t change the world, but they’re part of an attitude that influences the way people think. They’re signifiers, little messages people send to each other, like those hats.” The models’ masks might’ve been the most obvious signifiers. Now that they’re a necessary accessory, every runway without them is a missed opportunity – and to one’s surprise, many designer don’t include them at all. “A mask kind of works with my clothes,” Owens said, “but it’s also a vote. It’s also promoting consideration of others. You might not believe in a mask, but it sends the right message.” As it happens, the collection’s sexy fishnet dresses were upcycled from the masks models wore in his fall 2012 show. The Casino piazza setting was even more monumental than Owens’s usual Paris venue, the Palais de Tokyo. Owens called this a “bare-bones” production, put on by a “skeleton crew,” but there were smoke machines and strobe lights placed inside the doors of the shuttered casino. Models strode through the fog in thigh-high platform boots that the designer dubbed “waders” – Venice is sinking, after all, and don’t forget that river of blood! “In the face of adversity,” he concluded, “we have to pull ourselves up.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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