Rick Owens Fall 2019 Menswear

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This was Glam Rick. Or, as Owens put it, a collection about “the glory of lust and vice.” That sounds hot to trot—all cares thrown to the wind—but there was a cautionary, matured, reflective note, too: how to enjoy excess yet remain balanced.

This was also a collection of two designers. For several years now, Owens has been working on a book dedicated to Larry LeGaspi, which will be published by Rizzoli just about the same time that this collection drops in October. Given that Owens is soon to become a published author on the subject, it’s best you hear about LeGaspi straight from the horse’s mouth.

“For me, as a teenager growing up in Porterville, California, what Larry LeGaspi did was a huge thing—the way he infiltrated middle America with this subversive sensibility. He started out kind of inventing LaBelle’s look [around 1973]. Then Kiss took LaBelle’s look. He did stuff for Kiss [1974–1978] and then Grace Jones, Divine . . . So at the very beginning, he created that silver and black sleazy ’70s thing, to my eyes a combination of Art Deco and campy sci-fi. In fact, I found out later he was into the same sci-fi I was—the 1930s film of The Shape of Things to Come, which kind of defined what The Jetsons did later. And Larry LeGaspi took it, too. . . . He comes in and takes that and somehow, he connects with soul culture—black soul culture and music—with LaBelle. So that combination is already kind of a surprise, and then, with Kiss, he takes it into mainstream America, high school kids. And Kiss turns it into commedia dell’arte, kabuki, Greek tragedy masks . . . they add sex, lust, and vice. So all of this stuff coming together was very important to this kid in Porterville.”

If LeGaspi showed the way, today Owens showed the destination. The platforms—of course—either in sandals or rubber-gusseted boots, were drawn from the Kiss aesthetic of feminized demonstrative testosterone. The incredible round-shouldered napa shearlings—just so sexy on either men or women or in-betweens or neither/nors—the oily tight black jeans under baby skin–soft knit cotton tank tops, the hard-shouldered and quadruple-pocketed slim-cut overcoats, the knit shorts and bag hardware featuring Kiss lightning bolts, and the wool-out patched bombers near the end were all urgently attractive, demonstratively different, compellingly kinky pieces.

Yet there was wisdom, too. As Owens has learned from Valerie, LeGaspi’s widow, who kindly shared not only her archives but also her memories, the subject of this collection died early, of AIDS, and had a hustler’s life lived in the shadow of great domestic pain during his youth. “I do think of Larry’s as a kind of biblical story . . . about the glory of lust and vice, something I talk about a lot, but also about dissipation and decline—which I also talk about a lot. . . . When I was 15, I wanted to be dissipated. And now I am, a little bit. But there is also responsibility.”

Hence the new vegan sneaker, designed and produced in collaboration with Veja. Owens said: “I have been part of this whole sneaker story. I love all the sneakers I am seeing now—an orgy of wonderful excess, kind of fantastic, but I thought I did my part in that and I need to find a new way of doing it. And the idea of responsibility, well, I love that. I love promoting that message. I’m not saying I’m good at it, I’m just saying that’s what we need to move forward.”

The sneakers were pleasant—almost subtle in their quietness, not unlike his Birkenstocks, and therefore totally wearable by conventional saddos like me—but Owens stressed that this is what he wanted. “I’ve always said I wanted to do subtle clothes. But subtle clothes don’t really work unless there is a ridiculous flourish once in a while. And I believe in a ridiculous flourish: I am a minimalist who believes in a ridiculous flourish. And here there is extreme shoulders and everything but presented in a subdued way. It is about finding the balance between excess and the subdued.”

Just like his soundtrack (ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” recorded by Leather Nun, remixed by Fecal Matter), this collection took something we all recognized and turned it into something completely new yet simultaneously true to the original. Does any other designer reinvent his or her message so comprehensively every season while remaining so identifiably them/him/herself as Rick Owens? I don’t think so.

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