Alien Couture. Rick Owens AW21

Rick Owens presented another incredible, made-in-lockdown collection, livestreamed straight from Venice Lido (the place where most of his brand’s goods are produced). “Doing these shows without an audience is becoming a kind of private ceremony because we’re sort of doing it for ourselves,” he told Vogue. “There’s a sweetness to it.” The runway was an actual concrete pier, and the background – a breezy, cold sea. The models looked like a troop of Giacometti sculptures, or aliens whose spaceship wrecked in the fog. The collection synthesized comfortwear of the pandemic – bodysuits, knits, the ubiquitous puffer – with the grandeur of haute couture. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more glamorous gown this season than this show’s closing look, a fully sequined ivory hourglass stunner with a sculptural, asymmetric neckline and a single sleeve that was worn with a black gauntlet and matching mask. To be honest, nobody today does draping as well as Owens. Equally fantastic were the couture-ish things he did with puffer capes and coats with his now-signature power shoulders. The use of sequins was an interesting take on femininity: the result was a “garment”, which appeared to be over-the-shoulder thongs worn with cashmere bodysuits. On the subject of underthings, the pentagram briefs from the January men’s show reappeared here wrapped around evening clutches, the implication being that these alien females had handled the “unhinged male aggression” that those briefs signified. Here’s what Owens had to say about it: “During times of strife, you gotta step up.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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.