One in a series on the clothes that had a moment at Paris Fashion Week:
PARIS — The Rick Owens spring 2018 fashion show was set to take place outside on the plaza just beyond the Palais de Tokyo museum. The benches were arranged around a large fountain, and at each seat there was a black rain poncho bearing the Rick Owens insignia. And while it was not raining, nor did rain appear imminent, guests were instructed to don their foul-weather gear.
The water was about to come — refreshing, bracing, clarifying. And folks were going to get wet.
As the show music began, with a beat of drums and unnerving laughter, mist began to rise off the still water. In the distance, a tiny figure in white emerged from the museum and began to make her way around the courtyard — up steps, down steps, around the stone statuary — and into closer view. She was quite something: wrapped in white, a collage of puzzle pieces, and wearing rubber-soled sandals, akin to giant Tevas with soles made from Mack truck tire treads.
According to Owens’s show notes, the story of this collection was “experimental grace and form.” It was meant to symbolize the rejection of the world’s darkness: environmental peril, social intolerance, cultural wars. It was a gesture towards utopia, but one created by imperfect humans.
In practice, it was a collection that transported the viewer outside of the city, away from the new normal and into a misty dream.
As the models moved around the courtyard, their clothes transformed them into beautiful abstractions. The downy wraps, the looping necklines and the irregular draping made the models seem less like a crew of varied young women — black, Asian, white, thin, even thinner —and more like interconnected souls. Not anonymous and certainly not homogeneous, they were freed from all defining, constraining descriptions. They could have been members of Owens’s utopian cult.
There were finely pleated tops in kelly green and in shades of gray, black and ivory. Flowing blazers hung askew off shoulders. Skirts were cut to reveal the length of the leg.
The fountain suddenly burst to life and water spiked into the air, dozens of geysers shooting water some 20 feet skyward. More models emerged wearing T-shirts in multiples. The necklines and armholes had been stretched and distorted. Satchels and pouches were tucked behind the cotton scrim of the shirts, turning the women into walking, abstract sculptures moving through a thick fog. Gumby in the rain. A 21st century Botero.
Surely the clothes would have been as interesting without the waves rippling across the fountain, the spray that blew into the audience and the spires of water that towered into the dusky sky. But water has the capacity to draw us in, whether it is an ocean, a river or a fountain. It is powerful and humbling, an equalizer that reminds us of our place in the world and its delicate balance.
Yes, the clothes would have been as interesting without the water. And Owens’s narrative would have been as notable. But neither would have been as persuasive.
Also at Paris Fashion Week: