Men’s – Spiritual Escape. Rick Owens SS22

It was almost a year ago when Rick Owens presented his first collection of the COVID-hiatus near his home on the Lido di Venezia. Eight months on, he held his fourth and last show here, drawing a final line in the sand to mark the end of this excellent Venetian mini-Owens-epoch and augur the rebirth of something like before that will not remain the same. To be precise, the lines in the sand were mostly traced by the stacked soles of Owens’s platform boots, which were cut down this season from thigh-high to mid-calf and outfitted with special side pockets in which to stash mini fog machines (emitting purportedly non-toxic, sustainable fog) and create a vivid vapor trail. The models walked the shoreline of the beach directly in front of the Excelsior Hotel, whose cabana-renting guests watched enthusiastically, creating an accidentally serendipitous backdrop. A few feet offshore were installed four powerful waterjets, which spurted joyful blasts of seawater up, up, up into the flawless blue sky. Those vast and joyful ejaculations aside, the chief conceit here were the three sizes of portable fog machines after which this collection, “Fogachine,” was named. “I fixated on the whole fog thing because we are entering a period of celebration. And I just love fog in its ambiguity. It’s got religious overtones, it’s got amyl nitrate overtones, it’s got stadium rock concert overtones…and they’re all these celebrations of everybody getting together to reach a different level of experience, a different supernatural level.” As the twangily twisted techno soundtrack by Mochipet fired up, the models began their promenade. The opening look’s boxily baggy pant was a key silhouette piece for the season, and was worn under a panel-slashed eco-cotton bodysuit. Both were undyed and off-white, a highly unusual hue for Owens, as was much of the collection that followed – a natural, softer-than-often touch the designer meant to reflect a softer-than-usual sentiment beneath. As he said: “I sense this moment of excess coming, that I can’t really participate in because I’m not an excessive guy anymore. But anyway, I had recently said that I thought we had learned some humility in the recent past – however I don’t think we did. But I am suggesting that we still can, and that is what this collection is about. It’s softer. It’s hedonistic, but I hope it’s a responsible, gentle, nice hedonistic. Although of course I am always looking on the dark side. And you know, I was able to satisfy all my appetites and I would never wish for anybody else to be deprived. But I am a little leery of the intensity that is going to come.” Owens’s fog-fugged vision of sustainable, humanistic hedonism came clad in silk topcoats in panels of vaporous opacity that were ripped at the armhole and hip to create jagged scars of canvas and horsehair. There was a shamanically pagan piece of evening wear in a cock feather jacket made by Maison Février, the Parisian plumassier to Josephine Baker. There were foggily diaphanous nylon hoodies, and patchwork Japanese denim from an originally 16th-century mill that was worn with unlikely propriety, and almost ceremonial dignity, with a pair of delicately clutched opera gloves. More Japanese denim, this time 16 oz. and woven on vintage Sakamoto looms, provided a fiery punctuation mark in its orange weft, pink warp manifestation. Animalistic texture was rendered in the monochromatic hard-shouldered coats in by-product sustainable Pirarucu dragon-scale leather. Owens said one big influence for the collection had been the mystically fierce aesthetic of Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin. “It would be disappointing to go back to excess. Next season all of the houses are going to want to show their flex. And we’re going to join in too – we’re gonna flex – and I don’t know how exactly we will be able to manifest everything that we have learned, but we’re going to have to figure it out.”

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Rage. Rick Owens AW21

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.