The collection featured formidable coat and trouser volumes, longline dresses, and distressed, unravelling denim.
Rick Owens’s fall/winter 2023 show was, in the designer’s own words, a sombre one. Owens unveiled a restrained collection that was a comment on puritanism, and created with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine top of mind. Fashion critic Anders Christian Madsen was there—read his breakdown below.
Rick Owens wanted to reflect the war in Ukraine
“Perspective” is a word Rick Owens has been using a lot lately. As a sensitive person who is deeply affected by moods of aggression, he tries to calm himself by measuring current conflicts against historical ones. It’s why he’s interested in Egypt—“the scale”—and perhaps subconsciously why he elevated every element of his show this season. Inside Palais de Tokyo, Owens had erected a podium-style scaffolding runway, meaning his models—who were already elevated on sky-high platform boots—towered over guests like magnificent giants, some of them dressed in capes for added perspective. “I was telling everybody I don’t feel comfortable doing a runway show during a war without acknowledging it,” he said before the show, referring to Ukraine. “We were all thinking, what do we do? What is tactful? What is virtue signaling? What is in bad taste? It turned into kind of a debate, and we didn’t come up with anything. So, I decided I’d better not do anything. I thought the show would speak for itself. It’s a sombre show.”
The collection was essentially Rick
Because he wanted to say and do something for Ukraine, but wasn’t sure a fashion show was the right forum, Owens internalized his feelings. They were whispered in a pared-back, purified collection that handed the spotlight to his masterful architectural cutting. Loosely inspired by Egypt, they were expressed in formidable coat and trouser volumes, longline dresses and distressed, unravelling denim. “I’ve tried to do something architecturally pure and kind of raw, and also working with motifs that I feel are very me, at the risk of seeming repetitive. These are things we’ve all seen from me before but when things are a good idea, I think they’re worth repeating. The idea of redeveloping motifs that are part of your signature, I think that’s a good thing to put out there: the idea of not letting things become disposable, which is all too often the case,” Owens said. On a concrete level, the collection served as a reminder of all the Rick forever-pieces you want to own but haven’t acquired yet.
It was a reminder to the industry
There’s a lot to be said for the point Owens was making, even if he didn’t get to make it the way he wanted to. When Putin invaded Ukraine in February last year, every show we went to came with anti-war message. A year into the war, it’s a different picture. “I look around and I see things and I cringe a little, thinking, they know there’s a war going on, right?” Owens said. “I realize, also, that we are companies that need to be on the top of our game. We represent the very best of this kind of industry and people expect excellence. We have to deliver that. We can’t ignore that. But there are ways of delivering that excellence that aren’t quite as voracious and conspicuously consump… Consumptive? Consumption? Consumptive sounds like what Camille had! She had consumption,” he smiled, referring to the Greta Garbo’s role in the 1936 classic.
It was a comment on puritanism
It wasn’t consumption (or a weak constitution) that led to the Victorian influences that coursed through the collection in sharp shoulders and tight waists, but a reflection on today’s mentality. “I feel like [Victoriana] is a great mirror of the way the world is right now because there’s this primness and propriety and moralism online that is almost puritanical… the way people go after each other. Cancel culture: every little mistake, everybody is so quick to judge.” Does he worry about getting cancelled? “Oh, yes. I mean, I don’t lay awake at night but I’m conscious of things that we do or shouldn’t. For instance, talking about a war, integrating the idea of the war in the show. How easy to backfire would that be? We could really get people riled up if we aren’t careful. So, better to draw back and try to best present the best work we can. It’s not about us.”
The Beckhams were there
Speaking of Victorian, in attendance was Owens’s friend Victoria Beckham, who—clad in a long, tight black dress, big black sunglasses and a slick plait down her back—looked like a Bond villain’s dream. She brought her husband David, whose wardrobe is no stranger to the world of Rick Owens, either. You could easily picture the footballer in a lot of the pieces that walked down the elevated runway, which spoke to the real-world expression that Owens’s thought process had generated. “For me, it’s mild and a little bit restrained,” he said. “There are moments that we’ve been a lot more flamboyant and a lot more theatrical.” In that sense, Owens did what he set out to accomplish. When we look back on this collection in years to come—and read the words he attached to it—it will give us a perspective of what was going on in the world, not just in fashion, in 2023.