Rick Owens SS14: An Analysis

September 28, 2013

by Gracia Ventus

I know that fashion week is not over yet, but I can wager that the most talked about fashion show this season is undoubtedly Rick Owens’s step troupe performance. If you haven’t seen the fantastic show yet, please view the video here:

Social media and forums are bursting with commentaries, most heaping praises for the unexpected approach (yet not shocking after the previous Men’s show). However, as with any transgressive actions, it’s bound to invite strongly divided opinions – which of course did happen. I personally loved the show, despite not being able to see the clothes very well because I prioritise an inventive spirit over conventional perfection, to a reasonable extent of course because one can still smell a turd even when it’s covered in glitter. While I think this show isn’t immune to criticisms (let’s face it, that’s what controversies are for – to encourage healthy conversations), what I don’t think is okay, is body policing and generally raining down on these girls’ parade. Let me list several such commentaries I have been reading over the Web, and I shall address them one by one.

1. This is offensive to black people

First of all, when it comes to social commentaries, we first need to ask the people who are involved, aka the girls who danced in that show. Did they seem unhappy doing what they did? Are they offended by Rick’s invitation? Judging from an interview with one of the dancers, I think the girls were honoured, they had plenty of fun on stage, and they were proud to showcase their culture to the rest of us whom I’m pretty sure hadn’t heard of step til today. Those scowls, angry faces – they were part of the performance and I cannot agree less that they satirise black angry women. Are the rest of us, who are not actually black nor belong to that subculture have a right to tell them to be offended? Honestly speaking, sitting on a high horse just distorts the pleasant view.

We need to remember that Rick has always been an outsider who loves to highlight the subversive,  niche subcultures we’d never ever hear of in our respective comfort zones. This is why we love his clothes in the first place because they make us slightly uncomfortable in that warm fuzzy way. Anyway, I reckon he cares less about making a social commentary than putting on a grand show.

2. The clothes are ill-fitting

Yes, I can see that some of the pieces do not fit as well as they should, but not all (I’d love to wear quite a number of looks actually). This may be more of a logistical problem, but at the same time, an interesting dilemma presented to high fashion designers. When we look at a conventional catwalk show, the girls are almost uniform shaped within XXS-XS, so it’s easier to create patterns that flatter a narrow range of sizes. When I actually watched the video, I could see that there was a much more diverse range of body size, most likely from S-XL. Not only would grading patterns for that large a range be significantly more difficult in a short time span, I do think that merging his aesthetics with body shapes his clothes are not very familiar with is an even more astronomical challenge. It also opened our eyes to how we view fashion design process, highlighting the fact that yes, most clothes designed for runways do not flatter larger bodies.

Another idea is that the clothes might have been made before the idea of the step dance was conceived, in which case, it’s a slightly different problem altogether.

Regardless, one can only hope that this will be a stepping stone towards creating more inclusive clothes. Instead of just blowing up a size XS dress 3-5 times bigger to fit a larger body, maybe designers should include the diversity mindset from the first step by drawing a less distorted body proportions on paper. It requires a huge paradigm shift considering that the nine-heads body is the first thing taught in Fashion Drawing 101, but big changes start with a small step, or a voice, or a performance.

3. These girls can’t even fit into Rick’s size 48

Preface: Smallest size for Rick’s women is 38.

I facepalmed so hard at this one my flat Oriental nose just got flatter. Runway shows have never been this inclusive in terms of body shapes. Like what I mentioned previously, the video clearly shows girls ranging from S-XL (or 40-50), yet some people chose to concentrate on the bigger girls, and proceeded to make a sweeping statement as if all of them are overweight, unfit slobs.

Yes there are no glamazons, but they have always been the outliers in any given population graph. Also can we just think for a second that size is merely a number? It’s not up to us to decide how big a size 42 should be, that’s for Rick and his team to decide. Skinny girls have been so normalised on the runways that we forget the majority of women don’t really look like them in the first place, to the point that people are so quick to make hurtful statements like this. Perhaps thin privilege does exist after all.

4. This will only encourage obesity 

One moment full-figured girls invade the runway, the next everyone completely ignores their health and be bed-ridden obese cows. I don’t know about you but I think that’s a rather simplistic way of looking at things, and frankly quite derogatory.

How does one even respond to this one without pulling one’s hair? Firstly, there’s an implicit assumption that larger people are unhealthy because they linked body size to obesity. Noone, and I mean noone, can infer accurately a person’s state of health simply by looking at him/her, especially when most of us who are judging aren’t medical professionals. Those girls were not even obese. Plenty of them had fucking biceps for fuck’s sake. Did some people not notice that they’re dancers, and dancers move a hell lot? To draw similarities between these girls and people who can barely get out of their chairs does nothing but undermines their hardwork.

Secondly, have we forgotten that we still have a whole slew of body image-related health issues at the other extreme? Anorexia anyone? That is a far worse problem we’re having right now because the fashion industry is still conditioned to think that ONLY size 0 is beautiful, everyone else can get lost. 

5. I can’t fucking see the clothes!

Yeah, I know. I feel you on this one, but we can always wait for the lookbook, store photos, or do the legwork to the stores for some of you who are more privileged. One thing we know for sure is that these clothes can take a beating.

So that’s my 3AM rant, obviously riddled with angst and frustrations. I don’t expect everyone to agree completely with my sentiments, but you’re more than welcome to express your opinions. In the meantime I will leave you with Rick’s comment to his show.


15 thoughts on “Rick Owens SS14: An Analysis

  • RJ

    by RJ on September 28, 2013 at 4:48 am

    Thanks for sharing your in-depth thoughts on this show, Gracia.

    I was surprised to read some of the comments regarding the casting of the show. I thought it was quite clear what Rick was trying to achieve here, yet people behaved and demonstrated exactly why changes need to be made to the industry. I read some people referring to Rick’s presentation as “ghetto” and I thought to myself, how so? Because the casting was predominantly black? Because it was performed by black women in an aggressive manner? I was quite shocked as I saw nothing but a higher energy performance.

    One of the things I liked about the show was that the women looked brilliant in the collection and Rick’s designs proved to be very versatile. However, I will say that judging solely on the collection, I was quite disappointed. It disappeared. If his objective was for the dancers to be one with the clothing, then he succeeded. I saw this as his version of designing for a dance company like many great designers have done in the past (Issey, Cristobal, Yohji).

    The timing of the show couldn’t have been better coming on the heels of Naomi’s Balance Diversity Coalition. Change should have happened a long time ago and the industry should be ashamed for the lack of diversity it has. Playing the “aesthetic” excuse card just doesn’t work anymore. What this show did was start a much needed discussion that has been long overdue.

    With all that said, I am curious to see the casting for Rick’s next collection. Will he implement changes, or will he go back to old ways?

    • Gracia Ventus | The Rosenrot

      by Gracia Ventus | The Rosenrot on October 4, 2013 at 3:52 pm


      Thank you for your thoughtful input. I think we both share the same sentiment in that the show may have overshadowed the aesthetic integrity of the collection. Now that the hype of the show has faded, I feel less excited about the clothes, especially when compared to the previous brilliant Japanese basket-weaving one.

      It brings to light the concern whether fashion shows should be a spectacle for the masses, or simply just models after models after models showcasing the clothes. Should designers sacrifice the visibility of the aesthetics in order to elevate the level of excitement? Or is there a balance to be found? I don’t think it’s a question that can be answered for now considering the existing sample size is too small for us to draw a conclusion from. So we’ll just have to wait and see.


    by ODYSSEY on September 28, 2013 at 7:37 am

    I hadn’t previously run across any negative feedback but of course knew there must be plenty in the show’s aftermath. There will always be people making preposterous comments, as in “This will only encourage obesity” which does not even warrant a response.

    I thought what RO did was brilliant. Such a bold, risky move can only be taken by someone like him, who is already extremely successful with their “brand”. He can now afford to really, seriously, surprise us. And I love that.

    I can think of nothing negative to say except that I did notice a few leather jackets and woven skorts were slightly ill-fitting but that’s partly due to the girls’ movement. Leather and woven fabrics are simply not so forgiving as knits.

    I had no trouble seeing the clothes but I viewed close-up stills before watching video footage.

    Glad to see your analysis – thoughtful and smart, as always!

  • Alicia – Sea Of Ghosts

    by Alicia - Sea Of Ghosts on September 28, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    The problem with the presentation is that it’s brilliant, but only if you’re prepared to watch it in video format – and then, if you’re unfamiliar with step – go and learn up on what it is you’re watching.

    I was seeing both criticism and compliments when I woke up yesterday morning so the first thing I did was load up style.com to check it out. “Plus size” models? Awesome. Collection? Not ground-breaking but absolutely not disappointing. Mad faces? Whyyyy?

    Then I found out the models were actually dancers doing a performance. My interest is piqued, so I go to learn more.

    Quite frankly anybody not prepared to invest thirteen-odd minutes into finding out what actually happened during the presentation don’t even deserve a response to their ignorant criticism – including the size debate, really? Is this still something we’re all still arguing about? Not even entertaining it.

    Offensive to black people argument? Look this is awkward. I have white privilege, and I’m Australian – I’m not really familiar with an “angry black woman stereotype” because I’m not really exposed to it. So it honestly didn’t occur to me it MIGHT be offensive to black people.
    BUT it shouldn’t be. Step turns out to be a style of dance developed, practiced and typically performed by African Americans. It’s competitive (kind of like cheerleading) – the angry expression; “grit face” is adopted by the performers to intimidate their competition. So I mean who is even pulling the race card? Probably not black people. It’s their expression, and their dance.

    Can’t see the clothes? Because of dancing? Really? I think the stills on style.com show the clothes really well. But who does this actually affect? The buyers? They were stuck up the back behind the famous people in the front row in giant hats. They will go to the showroom and see the clothes properly. Don’t you fret for them, precious. Runway presentations stopped being for buyers a very, very long time ago.

    As far as the fits go… I’m not a model. I can’t trust the way a fit on on a 5’11” size 0 gazelle will suit MY body any more than I can trust the fit of a garment on a mid-step average height, average size dancer. I never bother with runway fits, it’s such a waste of time.

    What the hell else can I say? I like the collection – I’d wear a lot of it. Not the pastel puke green stuff though. Not a fan. There’s my complaint.


    by ODYSSEY on September 29, 2013 at 12:33 am

    I’ve no idea why my comment included a link to something. Most strange.. Anyhow, I kind of had the same initial impression as Alicia. Having only a vague idea what step dancing is, it only took a few moments of my time to educate myself. And then I understood the mad faces and everything just clicked. Again, I thought it was all quite brilliant.


    by THE DIVINITUS on September 29, 2013 at 4:52 am

    Personally I could see the clothes just fine, quickly judged the main features to agree collection is full of great essentials I would love to wear (I hope the funny pack will come in black, I was waiting for its release so long) – and I don’t really need a skinny kid aka model to do my usual observations. Besides, if that jacket looks good on the dancer will look good on me too :)

    And for those who don’t believe models were ever exposed to anorexia, bulimia or think obesity is the only actual issue. Please, don’t be naive. I don’t think basic body behaviors evolved much since the days I was walking in runway shows (back in Europe), and certain challenges stay the same. I have seen or experienced enough to write a book.

    • Gracia Ventus | The Rosenrot

      by Gracia Ventus | The Rosenrot on October 4, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      I think the big question that’s on people’s minds (or at least mine) right now, Ms. Divinitus, is where can we find pictures of you on the runway? :D


      by THE DIVINITUS on October 5, 2013 at 8:46 am

      Maybe in some newspaper archives, because it was long before the internet (the 90s). Very different time it was…

  • gothified

    by gothified on September 29, 2013 at 5:44 am

    And another excellent analysis, thank you! :)
    A few designers have played with a wider range of ages and body types before (Yohji Yamamoto Men’s A/W 11 come to mind) and I think that’s a really good thing because it makes fashion more accessible and inclusive (as Mr. Owens mentioned, too) for people that don’t usually wear XXS. Who cares if some of the clothes didn’t fit that well on stage when you see much worse fits everytime you leave your apartment?
    The dance first reminded me of the Maori Haka dance, a dance originally performed before battle by big, strong men to intimidate their foes. It’s an expression of strength and confidence. Now I know it’s not the same, but I still fail to see how that possibly could be offensive to black people (especially to women).
    Also people by now should used to see strange stuff at a Rick Owens show, so I really don’t get those complaints (except for the “not being able to see the clothes” thing).
    I mean, isn’t that much better than stick people without facial expressions walking down a narrow catwalk?
    I liked the show, I liked the clothes (well, mostly) and to me it’s also kind of an art so those complaints are like complaints about Picasso having a different style than the next hobbyist painter trying to learn paint from Bob Ross videos…

    • Gracia Ventus | The Rosenrot

      by Gracia Ventus | The Rosenrot on October 4, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      Hehe. That’s a nice way of putting it. I guess some people just prefer conventional shows, which is an irony considering we’re talking about that one guy who crafted an entire niche in fashion.

  • animalorchestra

    by animalorchestra on September 29, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    The only criticism that I’m struggling to reconcile is the one that goes, “Rick’s use of almost all black models was done for novelty/spectacle. If he really wanted to be progressive, he should have just cast more WOC in all his runway shows.”

    And it’s kind of like a lose/lose situation, because if you don’t cast WOC, you’re racist and if you cast all WOC, you’re a tokenistic racist. But I do agree to an extent, in that this felt like…an idea he had for one show, not part of an ongoing commitment to address lack of diversity on the runway.

    That said, I loved that he did it, I loved the energy of the show and the spectacle and the fact that he forced everyone to sit up and pay attention. I loved that he cast models that were atypical for a high fashion runway show, that he showcased a diverse range of body types and that he opened the door for these kinds of conversations to happen.

    • Gracia Ventus | The Rosenrot

      by Gracia Ventus | The Rosenrot on October 4, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t. But yeah, like what Divinitus had said below, he wasn’t intending to be politically correct. So I guess we should take it at face value and enjoy the show as it was – a spectacular performance.


    by THE DIVINITUS on September 30, 2013 at 7:43 am

    “Rick’s use of almost all black models was done for novelty/spectacle. If he really wanted to be progressive, he should have just cast more WOC in all his runway shows.”

    I think it was all explained in his interview; His goal was not to break the racist/weight rules in the fashion industry but to present this particular and unique part of American culture not present in Europe; and the only option to do so, was by hiring the authentic sorority team. In this case, complaining about either the weight or skin color it’s like complaining about Aboriginal dance or Scottish pipe parade performed by all black or all white males dressed in skirts! :)

    What personally bothers me (especially in comments red on SZ forum) was how anything outside of own preferred aesthetics or comfort zone was quickly categorized as a racist or even sexist manoeuvre. That negative suspense qualifies to me as the act of ignorance and all those listed above.

  • Lulu

    by Lulu on September 30, 2013 at 8:06 am

    Love you Rosie. <3


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