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Rick Owens SS24
Photography Cris Fragkou

Rick Owens just wants you to be happy

Despite appearances, the designer's imposing SS24 collection was a manifesto on personal joy

Rick Owens cuts a sinister figure when he takes his bow at the Palais de Tokyo. But as much as the designer is known for sleeping in an alabaster tomb and cloaking himself in shroud-like attire, there is a disconnect between the Rick Owens the brand and Rick Owens the person. Known for his humour and Californian optimism, his clothes might cling to the frame like the disintegrating scraps on a cadaver but they’re soft and protective, vulnerable even. So when his usual battalion of hollow-eyed models descended the Palais’ concrete steps this morning in sinuous, all-black designs, it wasn’t a case of melancholia, but happiness: “considering joy a moral obligation,” as his show notes read. 

“With our world conditions under increasing threat, jubilance seems like the wrong note but maybe it’s the only correct moral response? Beyond being nice to each other, isn’t personal joy what we are put on earth to do?,” he added. “How one handles adversity is what defines one’s character.” The dominant silhouette this season was long and languid, cinched at the waist and flared at the leg so that fabric whipped at the ankle. It was the “grim, determined elegance,” of reptilian-shouldered coats that had been constructed from a mille-feuille of crisp, sheer silk. It was feather-weight capes, monastic hoods, and distended sleeves. And it was leather vests and fine-gauze t-shirts that had been wrapped and stretched and twisted around the torso in asymmetric drapes, anchored in orthopaedic boots made from calf leather. 

There was no colour at Owens’ showcase, bar the multistorey cannons that blasted red, white, and blue (and the occasional gold) pelts of smoke into the gloom, leaving fashion editors sprayed in ashy detritus. Could it be that Owens was sending out a covert distress signal? Telegraphing his allegiance against the Union Jack that trailed over London just last weekend to celebrate King Charles’ birthday? Would the word “cunt”, which was punch-holed into a sheer vest, offer a further explanation? It was Alexander McQueen, after all, that was claimed to have stitched the expletive into the lining of a suit for His Majesty when he was a 16-year-old apprentice at Gieves & Hawkes. That probably made him happy, too.