You can always expect emotions from Rick Owens. And this time, it’s rage. And sometimes, releasing rage is healing. Owens’s autumn-winter 2021 cast resembled a march of sexily sepulchral men stepping out to face their demons. Leather bodysuits – the latest chapter in his onesie narrative – sometimes enveloped, and sometimes hung half-worn as if flayed. Hooded habits came in recycled cashmere, waste plastic, or quilted material. You couldn’t make it out on the video, but the star on his newly Rick-ified Converse Chuck Taylors (this time the designer gives his man a rest from killer platform stompers) had been reworked into a pentagram. The oversized shoulders on slashed-arm overcoats and crop-top bomber jackets were meant to “mock male conservatism” in a collection Owens noted was an exploration of “male suppressed rage on every side of the moral divide.” In a preview, Owens confessed that he’d thought twice about facing rage in a collection presented just as four years of American carnage seemed to be over. “I thought this morning, does it feel a little tone deaf because now all of a sudden everything has shifted? Now that it’s all about optimism? But that dark element has not disappeared. And the fact that it came so close, this moral war, is horrifying.” Owens’s clothes are fundamentally playful provocations to conservatism and complacency. As well as a determination to remain uncomplacent about male aggression more broadly, Owens is sensitive to his own capacity for it. He said, “I’m always conscious of my own aggression. And the older that I get, I feel like I should have reached a level of serenity that I just haven’t; I get impatient, I get itchy, I snap at people sometimes. Aggression is something that I’m fascinated with because I’m constantly conscious of wrestling with it, personally. And I think that that’s true of every man.” Jackets with inbuilt gloves and masks were equipped for care of both the self and others through distance-dressing. And alongside satyr-appropriate thigh-highs and knowingly titillating bodysuits were garments designed for a broader constituency; examples included supple hooded shearlings, specially woven Japanese selvedge denim jeans, the Converse, and meandering olive cashmere knitwear. Owens said, “There’s a lot of regular-guy clothes in this collection, more than I have had in the past, maybe. I like that mix because it suggests more tolerance. I’m trying not to alienate or exclude.” This second show staged near Owens’s summer home on the Lido near Venice showcased a convincing interaction with the regular-guy world as passing locals watched the collection unfold. Showing here, said Owens, has become “like a private ritual” for him and his team because of that lack of a formal physical audience. The result was a film simultaneously intimate and grandiose. Owens observed, “I always kind of comfort myself that the world has always existed with darkness and light. And for some reason, there always seems to be enough goodness in humanity to just balance it out, and just to keep everything going. It’s close…but hope springs eternal.” By remaining sensitive to that human chiaroscuro through the creation of garments that subvert its darker shades, Owens contributes to the light.
“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.