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Photography by Lea Colombo

Ten of Rick Owens’ most memorable shows

From his first runway to the most recent SS18 womenswear collection, we revisit some of the designer’s most groundbreaking moments

Today, Rick Owens’ retrospective exhibition SUBHUMAN INHUMAN SUPERHUMAN opens in Milan, we’re celebrating with a trio of stories about the designer. Head here to meet the Rick Owens Tribe, and here to read an interview with the designer himself.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – and for fans of Rick Owens, it’s about to get even better, as a new retrospective of his work opens at the Triennale di Milano today.

SUBHUMAN INHUMAN SUPERHUMAN takes an in-depth look at the radical prince of avant-garde fashion’s creative processes and influences, while exploring the unconventional notions of beauty that have defined his career so far.

Including archive pieces from his ready-to-wear collections, his esoteric furniture and a selection of his sometimes epically-proportioned publications, we were perhaps most excited to hear that Owens – who has had full creative control throughout – has commissioned a new sculptural installation especially for the exhibition. 

Given that the designer’s previous forays into sculpture have included an all-white effigy of himself that stood at 25 feet tall, a series of tables and chairs held up by life-sized Owens mannequins (an homage to Allen Jones’ 1969 Hatstand, Table & Chair) and, perhaps most memorably of all, a statue that depicted him naked and urinating on the ground, we think it’s pretty safe to say that Owens will have something particularly outstanding in store for us as part of his first major retrospective.

When it comes to the runway, Owens made his debut in New York in February 2002 for AW02 – his planned show the previous September having been cancelled post-9/11. His romantic-goth vision has been a highlight of Paris Fashion Week since he moved to show there the following year. To mark the opening of the exhibition, we look back at some of Owens’ most memorable runway moments – including SS14’s step-dancers, the human ‘backpacks’ of SS16 and, yes, the aforementioned peeing statue, first presented at 2006’s Pitti Uomo Immagine.  


By the time Owens had his first show, he wasn’t exactly an unknown. His label was founded in LA in 1994, and his clothes had been stocked in major retailers for years. It was a jacket in the pages of Vogue Paris in 2002 on Kate Moss that apparently caught the eye of Anna Wintour, who sponsored his first runway show in New York as part of the An American View initiative.

As for the runway, it was opened by Kirsten Owen, and featured a procession of earthy-toned looks, from floor-length khaki coats to sweeping brown cardis. With Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop on the speakers, every model a wore close-fitting hood, coordinated to their outfits.


Though more understated than others on this list, Rick Owens’ SS03 show is just as important. Demonstrating his pioneering vision, the designer amalgamated menswear and womenswear into one collection – far preceding the likes of VetementsGucci and J.W.Anderson, who have recently adopted the same approach.

The clothing within this collection stands out too. Though Owens is known predominantly for his palette of black and grey – he’s more than a few times been referred to as the ‘Dark Lord of High Fashion’ – the collection is presented almost entirely in the palest of greys and diaphanous white, showing that despite leaning towards the dark side, Owens and his creations have a lightness to them too.


As part of his AW06 menswear show, Owens amalgamated 30 of his favourite garments and a selection of his Brutalist-inspired furniture in what was a small retrospective at Florence’s Pitti Uomo Immagine.

Overseeing proceedings, though, was a lifesize waxwork sculpture of the designer himself, naked and urinating on the ground. Created by the team behind the works at Madame Tussauds, the sculpture now calls Owens’ Paris flagship store home.


SS09’s takeaway image was the opening: a ghostly pale Mariacarla Boscono marching through a cloud of white smoke in an inky black, nun-like habit. Each model in the show – which took place in a stark, brightly-lit white space – wore some kind of head covering, some standing stiffly out and others flowing in translucent chiffon.

It wasn’t just their heads that were swathed in fabric, feet were wrapped in black leather which fanned out as they walked. 


Though Owens usually eschews conventionally beautiful models in place of unique individuals that challenge accepted beauty standards, SS14 saw him do away with traditional models completely.  

Instead, the designer sent a ‘vicious’ team of step-dancers – including members of the Zetas, Washington Divas, Soul Steppers and Momentums – down the runway. Wearing utilitarian tunics and shorts to allow for optimum movement, the girls formed a new sorority under Owens; stomping and posing aggressively, their movements strong and exuberant, their faces ‘grit’.


Prior to sending his troupe of step-dancers down the catwalk for SS14, Owens chose to accompany his menswear show of the same season with a performance by Estonian heavy-metal outfit Winny Puhh – which translates to (surprise!) ‘Winnie the Pooh’.

There was nothing cute about the show, however. The group – who narrowly missed out on representing their country in 2013’s Eurovision Song Contest – were decked out in wrestling gear and suspended from the ceiling, where they thrashed frenetically at their instruments and whipped the assembled fashion crowd into a frenzy.


“Nudity is the most simple and primal gesture” Rick Owens said backstage of his AW15 ‘Sphinx’ menswear show, as he sent a number of his models down the runway with their penises on display by way of a series of cut-outs. “It packs a punch. It’s powerful. It’s a straight world now. It says something about being independent. Who else can really get away with this stuff? It’s a corporate world! This was our private moment.”

Owens was right – he did get away with it; though the mainstream media caught wind of the show and looked on with a mixture of bemusement and horror, those in attendance were nonplussed. As Susie Bubble noted, the deconstructed tunics and swathes of fabric that wrapped around the models’ bodies in typically poetic fashion were the main focus, with the (barely visible) dicks a mere afterthought.


Owens demonstrated his propensity for sculpture as part of his SS16 offering, with an emotional show that comprised a number of models strapped to each other; legs over shoulders, around waists and across backs. Female strength was at the core of the collection – the women were quite literally supporting each other.

The show ended with a model seemingly unburdened by the weight of another; though when she turned around, the straps that bound the others were evident to the rear of her jacket – ready for the inevitable moment she would have a load to bear.


In what was one of – if not the – stand-out show of the season, Owens constructed a vast, scaffolded structure for his models to ascend for SS18. Set in the courtyard of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the designer was inspired by the towering constructivist art imagined by Vladimir Tatlin.

Initially appearing as tiny specks at the top of the monumental structure, the models made their way around the catwalk in a series of utilitarian tailored styles, with particular focus on the suit jacket – described by Owens as a “respectful uniform, as a symbol of civilization, as elegant luggage, as personal aspiration architecture.” 


Gone was the vertiginous structure that rose over the Palais de Tokyo as part of his SS18 menswear show, as Owens stripped things back to basics to present his womenswear collection for the season – though there was still an element of drama to the proceedings, as fountains to the middle of the runway shot 30 feet in the air prior to the show. The lucky audience members were given branded ponchos to protect them from the splashback, though.

Again, Owens demonstrated his tendency toward moving sculpture, with models swathed in layers of misshapen fabric and quilted panels that distorted their bodies. Though some saw the plight of the refugee in the unique forms, Owens was more matter of fact in his assessment – “they look like meringues to me.”

SUBHUMAN INHUMAN SUPERHUMAN will be open from December 15 2017 to March 25 2018 at Triennale di Milano.