September 26, 2013 Paris
For inspiration, he looked to stepping, which evolved in African-American colleges as a hybrid of step dancing, cheerleading, and military drill. (Choreographers Lauretta Malloy Noble and her daughter LeeAnet added other elements—Zulu dancing, for instance—to customize the designer's presentation.) For the past five months, Owens and his people worked with stepping teams from four sororities—Washington Divas, Soul Steppers, The Momentums, The Zetas—to produce a performance that was as spectacularly synchronized and spotlit as a Busby Berkeley celluloid set piece from the golden age of Hollywood.
Forty dancers—features set in a scowl steppers call "grit face," intended to intimidate the competition—pounded the catwalk in outfits that transfigured Owens' signature wrapped, draped tropes. These women needed to move. The clothes were adjusted accordingly—hiked, laced, slit, zipped—to allow maximum motion. It was a revelation to see Owens' clothes so transformed: immediate electricity rather than the monumental serenity that has pervaded his womenswear of late. If he's always wanted to create clothes that were, as he said, "a cross of elegance and roughness," this was the time and place he made that happen. In his hands, the notion of extreme sportswear became something as gorgeously unlikely as the NBA in Vionnet. And that was some kind of vision.
More than that, it was bliss to experience Rick's joyous assault on fashion orthodoxy. "We're rejecting conventional beauty, creating our own beauty," he said. He's acutely aware of the accusations of cultishness that are leveled against his clothes, but all those body types today added up to as inclusive a catwalk vision of womanhood as we're ever likely to see. Such a gentle notion, and yet it struck home with a sledgehammer force. Sure, the breathtaking presentation counted for a lot, but it got its overwhelmingly timely weight from the culture of denial and exclusion that is currently eroding American politics.