Rick Owens fall-winter 2019 collection. (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)
Fashion critic

PARIS — The models at the Rick Owens show Thursday night looked like glamorous aliens, as if creatures from some science fiction movie had wandered into the designer’s atelier and raided his sample room. Some of the women in his fall 2019 show looked deathly pale, as if every drop of blood had been sucked from their veins. Others had disfiguring protrusions growing from their cheek or running parallel to their nose. Their facial peculiarities marked them as oddballs, weirdos, pariahs.


(Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

(Stefan Knauer/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

(Stefan Knauer/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

But their demeanor was confident. Their gait was sure. And their clothes were so cool. The jackets with the high, rounded shoulders shielded them like stunningly tailored armor. Their bright red leather pants exuded fiery disregard for protocol. And the dresses and skirts in shades of cherry, plum and raspberry were cut with a slouchy, sexy, curvaceousness that recalled the wilting beauty of a flower in the last moments of full, glorious bloom.


(Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

(Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

(Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

(Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Owens paid homage to Larry LeGaspi, the man behind the sexy, sleazy, otherworldly look of 1970s performers such as KISS and Labelle. His work, Owens said in his show notes, inspired him as a young man growing up in California who felt like an outsider and who turned to style as a tool toward self-identity. He found kinship with the cool outcasts in the ghoulish makeup and the rock god coats and platform boots as well as with the provocative, self-assured black women who were the antithesis of Motown charm school decorum.

The public lives of these performers defied the mainstream, and they looked as if they had managed to free themselves of the constraints and judgments of this world. Owens also found inspiration in LeGaspi’s costumes for his men’s collection, which he presented here in January. He has also written a book about the costume designer.

As Owens’s models emerged from the theatrical clouds of smoke inside the Palais de Tokyo, their style exuded poetry. They weren’t perfectly styled, classic beauties. They were flawed. Their imperfections highlighted their individuality. Their strangeness was romanticized. If only real-life misfits and freaks were treated with such grace.


(Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

(Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

(Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

(Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

(Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Owens strayed from his typical palette of black and moss, gray and mocha. Instead, this collection was filled with shades of saffron, paprika, cinnamon and thyme. His strange-looking models weren’t draped in darkness; they were wrapped in light.

Owens’s work is at its best when it skirts the edges of the acceptable, when it swims against mainstream palatability. He excels at veering into alternative spaces and finding elegance in the rough edges. He leans in to the contrary point-of-view. He brings out overlooked beauty and spots the coolness in an awkward gesture. He expands the definition of glamour and makes us welcome what — and who — we once might have scorned.

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