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Rick Owens Harry Eelman models Walrus Mastodon casting
Aske Hyldborg Jensen backstage at Rick Owens AW16 menswear Mastodon showPhotography Harry Eelman

The faces making up Rick Owens’ world

Photographer Harry Eelman presents a new portrait series capturing the characterful cast of the iconoclastic designer’s shows

“When you do a lot of backstage shows you see the same models at every show and it can get generic very quickly,” comments photographer Harry Eelman. “It’s always exciting to me when a designer deviates from the traditional and challenges the viewer – Rick excels at that.” For the past year, Eelman has been making the most of shooting coverage backstage at Rick Owens’ shows, bringing along a film camera to capture the casting for an ongoing series. After all, while Owens is famed for his on-the-runway spectacles (like having a step team dance, inviting Estonian metal band band Winny Puhh to perform, or getting women to walk with others physically strapped to their bodies), it’s also the models who define the spirit of his shows.

Beautiful and intriguing without being conventional, the faces who walk for Owens’ four shows a year are overseen by Dazed’s casting director Noah Shelley. Indeed, the designer’s casting is about as far as you can get from the current era of Instagram It models – the focus is on the unusual and enigmatic, as opposed to a more obvious type of beauty, and seasoned runway veterans will often star alongside unknown street cast faces and those from independent agencies like Germany’s Tomorrow Is Another Day.

The images in Eelman’s series cover Owens AW16 and SS17 menswear and womenswear shows, termed Mastodon and Walrus. For the former, he was thinking about “ecological anxiety” and the prospect of an apocalpse, while at September’s show he broke free from his monochromatic signature, unleashing a colourful and “frothy” collection. "I’m really into what's been happening with the Walrus collection – the shapes, the textures, the colours, it’s all so breathtaking,” Eelman enthuses. “He takes these beautiful fragile pieces and juxtaposes them with the raw cavernous basement of the Palais de Tokyo, and all the while Nina Simone’s voice is permeating through every crevice of it and you just wanna cry. Rick knows how to put on a show, it’s theatre at its finest.” See the series in the gallery above.

@harryeelman