The one designer you expected to remain unbitten by the couture bug inspiring designers for Autumn/Winter 2011 is Rick Owens. There's always something primeval and yet futuristic about his catwalk offerings - two adjectives that seem to run antithetical to the very definition of haute couture.
It's rare you see the past used so adeptly to reinvent the future. You could see the shadows of couture's heyday in each and every one of Owens' garments - but somehow, they managed to avoid any retire trap. Backstage he threw out references to couture favourite Charles James and the sixties supermodel Veruschka, and sent his models marching out to a classical soundtrack that sounded like the backing music to an unmade Hitchcock film. Those are all references we've seen other designers toying with, but Owens' take was utterly unique, and electrifying.
For all the shadow of history, however these clothes looked new and exciting, intersections of fabrics in black, white and every subtle shade of taupe, long lean skirts hitting the calf or lower, jackets and cloaks tailored close to the body. Well, mostly closely - the ones that shone, however, had puffer-padding outlining each bicep in homage to James' famous 1937 down-stuffed evening jacket. Dali called it the world's first soft-sculpture, and there was something of the masterpiece in James' reinvention of it today.
As ever with a Rick Owens show, it wasn't so much about plucking out individual pieces (however stunning they may look in the showrooms and stores afterwards), but about the mood of the collection as a whole. This was one of his most powerful. The Owens woman always has the touch of a high priestess about her - this time, she felt like the severe Directrice de la Mode of a post-war couture house, guardians of the chapels of Dior, Balenciaga and Fath. Models had their heads pinned into tightly-fitted snoods, shoulders swathed with neat, sleek capes (a key item for A/W 2011 Owens), lips reddened, hands thrust into gloves that resembled something out of an Irving Penn portrait.
As each flawless model excited, one was struck with the thought that if Cristobal Balenciaga was making clothes today, the chances are they'd look something like this. Structurally astounding, technically dazzling and impeccably elegant. Elegant isn't a word you throw around Owens' work. Neither is chic - but his clothes today were both.