Mr Controversial

In the week that saw women wearing women at Paris Fashion Week, we look at the designer behind the headlines. So who is Rick Owens?

Over a twenty year career it’s fair to say that the American has far from shied away from controversial or sensitive issues within the world of fashion. Whether it’s lack of diversity, racism, sexism, nudity or sex, Owens is never afraid to make a statement. His most recent catwalk spectacle was inspired by an image of Leigh Bowery carrying his wife Nicola in a harness, and was said to be a comment on the power of women, the strength of sisterhood and the weight of societal pressure.

women carrying women

“I would lay a black glittering turd on the white landscape of conformity.”

However, this isn’t the first time Owens has used the catwalk as a talking point; his Spring/Summer 2014 show was also celebrated for its diversity.    Owens’ choice of step-dance crews from across America was not just a comment, but an attack on the fashion industry. They were real women, they were racially diverse, they were different shapes and sizes, and they danced. Owens once again defended everything the fashion industry seemingly overlooks.

step dancers

Despite being hailed the ‘Goth’ of the industry, Owens identifies himself as an early adopter of ‘glunge’ – glamour and grunge. Then again, he did create the gothic all black My Little Pony to raise money for those affected by the Nepal earthquake.

His Spring/Summer16 menswear collection “Cyclops” looked at the trails, failings and hopefulness of man. In his normal style, the show was far from normal, with models wearing head wrappings made of hair and intentionally creating a ‘single    vision’ for those walking. This however was far from the most outrageous catwalk creation by the designer. We all know ‘Free the nipple’, but “Sphinx”, Owens’ Autumn/Winter2015 menswear collection took a slightly different look at the human body. Inspired by all things naval, he even included portholes in his designs, placed controversially to expose models genitals.

rick owens

It was hailed as a powerful social commentary, saw a little wordplay on twitter #dickowens, and of course outraged some, leading Owens to respond: “boys with their dicks out is such a simple, primal, childish gesture.”

Aside from the seriousness of the issues raised by Owens and his catwalk spectaculars, the designer is also famed for his tongue in cheek spectacles. Some of his more narcissistic behaviour has included commissioning Madame Tussauds artists to create several waxwork clones, some featuring him urinating on the floor, others sporting a Godzilla tail. The first now acts as a centerpiece for his Paris flagship store, with his Hong Kong flagship hosting tables and chairs created (once again) from life size models of himself.

rick owens table The reason he likes to shock? The answer is simple: “I like to be shocked.” The fashion industry is one with many flaws, that much is undeniable, and however outlandish they may seem, perhaps it is through productions like Owens’ that things change, if only by getting people talking about issues that count. He’s a fan of fetishism, a supporter of diversity, a leather jacket guru, an advocate of nudity for all occasions, and whether you like him or not he’s managed to build a fashion empire boasting over £100m in annual revenue, so he must be doing something right.

He undoubtedly raises the questions that others avoid, so as his women wearing women catwalk continues to fill headlines and tweets alike, Owens is most probably already onto his next masterpiece. Oh,    and speaking of questions, he has the answer to the question we’ve all been waiting to know the answer to; should we ever wear a Juicy Couture tracksuit? “If you have an open heart and an easy laugh I’m sure you’ll look great.” Well, that settles that then. 

Cover image source:

Molly Shanahan

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