An audience with Rick Owens could leave you feeling like a seal who's been thrown a bucket of red herrings. Before his show today, he was relating his new collection to brutalism, the architectural movement that gave the world a wealth of anonymously squat concrete skyscrapers. Backstage, the models in filleted ski masks were a glimmer of what he might possibly mean, even if Owens clarified that the masks were, for him, "a brutalist veil," and, to counteract the harsher implications of a Lecter-like face hugger, he'd insisted on classically beautiful makeup: a pale face, a red lip. The soundtrack for the show, on the other hand, was Zebra Katz's savagely minimal "Ima Read." That at least had an unambiguously brutalist vibe. So did the set, with bars of fire blazing like a sacrificial pyre while the models walked.
And then, against all that, Owens had to go and unload the most lyrical, un-brutal collection he's ever shown, in an act of fierce self-contradiction that underscored his assertion that the story slowly "emerges" each season for him. In other words, even he isn't quite sure what it is he's just done.
There is certainly enough in Owens' work to suggest that he is unwittingly channeling something deep and meaningful. He is, however, clued in enough to provide a clear context. He's a Hollywood baby, for instance, so if there were freaky glimmers of Fred Astaire in his men's show in January, here there were refractions of Marlene Dietrich in her Jean Louis-gowned cabaret appearances (and how unlikely is it that the very same reference popped up with Marios Schwab in London).
It was actually the pilled-chiffon dresses that were most suggestive of Dietrich's "naked" gowns to Owens himself, which was maybe an ellipse too far. If he's not sure about what he does, how
can we be? Still, when Owens reeled off Dietrich's assets—"control, beauty, discipline"—they were all consummately expressed in his collection, never more so than in the serenely elegant gowns partnered with cropped lantern-sleeve leather jackets. Those same jackets also appeared with huge, capelike shearling collars.
Duly enchanted, it was easy to move on to Owens' explorations of new graphic possibilities: blanket checks, patchworked furs, color-blocking (although the colors were a panoply of monotones).
Discussing the architectural influences on his latest collection, Owens mentioned that he'd progressed from last season's Marcel Breuer ("soft" brutalism) to Frank Lloyd Wright, the most organic of architects. So it was Wright's elementalism that ultimately shaped Owens' Fall. All those soft, round, flowing volumes were the very opposite of brutalism's angles. Thank God Rick Owens is a stranger to himself.