Rick Owens chose to be close to his other home – not the Paris home near the Assemblée Nationale but his second home in Venice to stage a live-stream fashion show with no audience in an area known locally as Lido di Venezia, which is a barrier island in the Venetian lagoon in the piazza in front of the Lido Casino, a rationalist palazzo built in the 1930s where, as the designer said, he “walked by and worshipped everyday on my way to the beach.” Lido di Venezia as Owens reminded us is also the site of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice about a writer’s obsession with a youth, and about death during the cholera epidemic.
Located about two hours from the Italian factory that has produced Owens’ collections since the very beginning, this majestic Venetian piazza allowed him to assemble his team from the factory to make a live streaming show that he characterized as “cozy, truthful and spectacular all at once.”
The smoke machines were still there although much smaller in scale on both sides of the Lido casino, spurning out white smoke like a giant incense burner at the entrance of a Buddhist temple, whose marble frontage and piazza gave a familiar air to the outside of the Palais de Tokyo where all the recent Owens show took place. At first glance at the live stream, it felt like coming back home in a strange way where distance and closeness were just relative, not physical descriptions.
From a far-off camera angle from above giving the audience a panoramic perspective of the entire spacious area of this piazza, empty of people, the small shadows of the models walking and wearing a black one-shoulder micro dress and black thigh-high boots, a pink strapless chiffon dress, and high blood-red boots, or the lean long black sleeveless jacket and of course high-heeled boots gave the comfort of continuity and the sense of command at this exceptional Owens show, not only for actually staging the show in his own way by not relegating the sense of giving the clothes a backdrop of a citadel but also by the uniqueness of the clothes. Owens’ stage ‘construction’ now barren is always central to his fashion vocabulary that filters into every product under his brand name whether they are men’s and women’s apparel, footwear, or his large range of furniture designs.
One remembers a Rick Owens signature shape or garment or that a certain image of an Owens boot that sticks around in our mind simply because of this educational process that is his fashion shows. Here in Venice, the new conversation for spring started where the last sentence ended last February.
Unfortunately, the dialogue was interrupted by one season. This past July the men’s show could not have taken place due to the lockdown and pandemic; in lieu, the audience saw a black and white ‘video-film’ made like a surveillance taping with several camera angles showing the same actions from different sides where the professor-designer performed a series of fittings at his studio with one model. It was like an instructional manual on how to assemble a complete look. But this women’s show shared the same title ‘Phlegethon’ which is the name of the fire river in Greek mythology, or in Owens’ own words: “one of the rivers in the inferno described in Dante’s Divine Comedy, not quite the center of hell but on the way there.”
“My last fall runway shoulder freak-out wasn’t about power, it was about defiance – defiance in the face of threat. Black grain de Poudre tailoring is oversize with sleeves ripped off of hulking shoulders … straps allow the wearer to strip jackets off and cinch around waists as a beach bustle … satin rib waist bombers that have that are an exaggerated middle finger to doom,” Owens explained regarding how the new sleeveless jackets in this show came about. These sleeveless silhouettes came in the form of a white two-button narrow lapel single-breasted long coat with the shoulder pads hanging out of one side of the sleeve holes, a black long coat with satin bow waist tie, or as a white leather biker where the shoulders have been replaced with giant protruding shoulders wrapped in white cable knits. A black sheer organza over-the-head vest worn over a white cotton tank or the sheer black chiffon zippered coat both seemed to be just mere shadows of those bulky Fall 2020 heavy pagoda-shoulder-shaped jackets. Perhaps these shadows may completely disappear next season and reemerge several years from now.
The tailoring works performed on these jackets and coats are extremely detailed in their sophisticated maneuvers. Here are two examples of expert tailoring – the structure of the black cropped one-button midriff sleeveless jacket was so rigidly secured, and the curvatures of the black gabardine wool falling from the top of the shoulder blades.
The soft chiffon in pink and long black wool cape with a front shape that curved around the side of the body to the back and the cape ended just slightly above the cement floor so that it seemed like it was floating. The thigh-high platform boots should be considered more as a garment here than an accessory.
Look closely and there are plenty of great clothes to wear as well like those short knit dresses in light grey and pink, or even those hot shorts with huge white cotton outsized pockets or the long pink cotton side-slit dress, or a red/orange cutout caped shirt. Just don’t let the thigh-high platform boots intimidate you. Furthermore, these dresses are both sexy and a bit, well, maybe romantic, not really adjectives to describe Owens’ clothes. Those fishnets tank dresses were reincarnations of similar versions from the fall 2012 collection. And Owens does leather like no one else – here in a white all-around front-zipper coat, white ‘dashboard’ front cape or red sleeveless blouson vest. Some of the paillettes on the black denim shorts are made from recycled plastic. The clothes shown here in Venice are both consistent signatures and they are also new.
Those who caught the live stream show today were treated to a special remix by Jeff Judd of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ which would be different if they were to catch a replay on YouTube afterwards. “This song has always been a reassuring and stabilizing anthem for me but here it gets as dark and delirious as falling into a K-Hole, fitting this moment perfectly. Copyright restrictions did not allow me to post it on YouTube so I had to post a substitute version, but Donna went hard for the live show at the Lido,” as Owens explained the different sound between the two moments. I never thought I could quote any designer using the word K-Hole but hey, it really is the right word to use for this moment of multiple and seemingly unending crises.