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Rick Owens AW16
Backstage at Rick Owens AW16Photography Chloé Le Drezen

Why Rick Owens hand-draped every garment himself this season

Hand-draping every single garment himself, the designer offers an AW16 collection that he says is ‘maybe as far away from fast fashion as I can do’

No theatrics. No performances. No physical gestures. Just Rick Owens and his clothes, moulded by his own bare hands. In a hype-fuelled, social-media initiative-ridden, high-volume fashion industry that is beginning to question itself, Owens added his own potent strand to the conversation. And he did so with the sort of serenity that almost needed no explanation, except he happened to be effusive with his words after a show, which felt like an outpouring of tenderness from him, and him only.

“I’ve been doing physical gestures in the last few shows,” he began. “I’ve been doing exposed penises to talk about shame and masculinity, superstitions about the body, and I did women cradling women, an emotion we can all identify with, because we’ve all stumbled and somebody’s helped us, and it’s a beautiful emotion. So I was thinking, ‘How can I reduce a physical gesture to me?’ And instead of using other people’s bodies, how do I use myself to be more intimate? And so I plonked myself in my studio, and I draped every single piece myself. Every single piece has its signature, its handwriting. No one is going to write exactly like me, so even though it’s duplicated it’s very unique. In this day and age, that’s not easy, and so that’s something positive that I can offer. It’s maybe as far away from fast fashion as I can do.”

“I plonked myself in my studio, and I draped every single piece myself... In this day and age, that’s not easy, and so that’s something positive that I can offer. It’s maybe as far away from fast fashion as I can do” – Rick Owens

That’s as good a polemic as you’ll hear from a designer on the turbulence that fashion is weathering at the moment. By celebrating his hand, his signature and what he, as a designer, can do, Owens bypasses the problems of overproduction and oversaturated messaging. Because Owens’ soft, billowing silhouettes that often resembled clouds or pillow - places of comfort to rest your head upon - were an uplifting respite. Some of the models wore bulbous helmets of matted hair created by Duffy that were meant to represent an evaporating mist or even winds of change, perhaps. “They’re evaporating into something bigger than us, that’s part of us, part of our past and part of our future, and it’s reassuring that change is not a cut-off, it’s part of something that will evolve forever.”

As with his menswear show, Owens called this collection Mastodon, in reference to the elephant-like mammal that roamed the earth thousands of years ago and became extinct, possibly because of climate change. That was another concern on Owens’ mind, but the message that emerged was never heavy-handed. “I’m thinking about evolution a lot, and the uneasiness about environmental changes but maybe even industry changes, any changes can be prevalent, and when I call a collection Mastodon it’s to remind us that everything has a shelf-life, and it’s to remind us that we will one day be mastodons and it’s just natural process. And how do we place that in a graceful, positive way?”

For the collection, Owen evolved his own design language to include a shade of green that he described as “natural and unnatural at the same time”, and for him, it was as strong as the black which he normally favours. That green, along with autumnal rust, dusky grey and earthy brown, undulated around the body in soft mohair, supple leather and lush velvet. Volumes soared. Fabrics comforted. And for most, faith was restored in how someone can say plenty with just the drape of the cloth. That’s the mark of a designer who is assured of their identity, as Owens wholeheartedly acknowledges and embraces the twists and turns that may lie ahead. His final remark, before being congratulated by a throng of people? “I’m not that afraid. All of those changes are not maybe as threatening to me, because my niche is so specific.”