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Rick Owens AW16
Backstage at Rick Owens AW16Photography Chloé Le Drezen

Rick Owens explores chaos and control for AW16

The designer used his menswear show to prove that when it comes to humanity’s impending doom, he’s staying upbeat

“We’re all gonna die!” grinned Rick Owens backstage after yesterday’s AW16 show, with the kind of carefree joy that had you smiling along with him rather than fighting off waves of existential dread. He was talking about how the show’s soundtrack – which came complete with the line, “I just wanted to call before I threw myself into the icy lake” looped over and over – had reminded him of the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, near where he had just opened a store. “There’s a tar pit where they found dinosaur remains,” he explained. “I was thinking about evolution when I was making this, and ecology, and how we’re all going to end up in the bottom of the La Brea tar pit!”

It was a fitting reference for two reasons. Firstly, that Owens, fashion’s perpetually black-clad prince of darkness, had chosen a literal tar pit to inspire him; and secondly because it tied into the collection’s main theme – what he described as “architecture versus wilderness”. In other words, the civilised versus the primal, the cultivated versus the organic, the sprawling, mathematically-planned metropolis of Los Angeles versus the oozing, black mass of tar perpetually threatening to bubble through its soil. “It’s kind of like what I always work with,” Owens offered, upbeat. “The glorious pursuit of control, inevitably doomed, and ending in collapse and wilderness.”

“It’s kind of like what I always work with... The glorious pursuit of control, inevitably doomed, and ending in collapse and wilderness” – Rick Owens

When it came to the clothes, this central dichotomy found its footing in the collection’s contrasts. On the one hand, there were neat belted beige trench coats, as well as beautifully tailored double-breasted jackets and velvet blazers. On the other, there were raver-ish super wide trousers, fleeces that hung like hides or were wrapped almost caveman-like around the body, and silhouettes that looked like fabric had exploded from and then cascaded down the front of them. Oversized utility pockets, giant, blanket-like layers and one sleeping bag puffa jacket gestured towards survival gear: these clothes were designed to weather the coming storm. What will man wear when nature decides to take over once more?

Some models had their faces painted a chalky white, eyes framed with dark black squares, recalling both a Dr Caligari-esque German Expressionism and the cosmetic rebellion of teenage mall goths, using their eyeliner as a kind of warpaint. It was a look Owens intended to be more glamour than rebellious youth, though one rogue, white-faced model did manage to escape outside for a fag break before the show, only to be chased back into the depths of the Palais de Toyko once someone noticed. (“You can’t be here!”)

With their history of step teams, penis flashing, Estonian metal bands and gymnasts strapped to one another, Rick Owens’ shows have garnered a reputation for making headlines. There was no such drama here, but that was no great loss – his clothes were theatre enough.