Fifteenth-century warrior geishas in outer space. That's less a mash-up and more a head-on collision of reference points, but it's probably the closest we can get to a pithy soundbyte on Rick Owens' latest offering for S/S 2011. It also, hopefully, expressed some of the power and sheer joy of his latest collection, the summary of a designer at the peak of his creative strength.
Owens has been on something of a roll these past few shows, and having spent a good number of seasons (nay, years) refining his signature style, he is now bravely pushing it forward into new realms. That was the feeling we got today, when Owens managed to create something that looked familiar enough to satisfy our commercial cravings, and yet considerably advance his style. The big story for the opening, and closing, was long - padded, layered, hefty, trail-on-the-floor long, fabric folded over the stomach and falling from a high waist like van Eyck's Arnolfini bride. But if Owens was looking back to medieval times, he streamlined the silhouette, sketching that bulk weightlessly around the figure in layers of greige, black and shots of moss green. It was a trick he pulled off later too, making thick, cocooning layers of fabric stand stiff and proud around the body, or waft weightlessly in long skirts and knee-length tunics. There was a feel of the orient to these, of soft kimono and stiff samurai ceremonial garb, but rendered go-faster - sack-backs dropped from the shoulderblades at a forty-five degree angle, sloping back from the body with a sense of urgent movement. Add to that attenuated tortoise-shell hair-combs reminiscent of Egyptian Gods, Spanish Infantas, Meikos, dinosaurs and everything in-between, balance your models on towering platforms to further attenuate their figures and send them out to insistent, insurgent throbbing dance music, veiled in dry ice.
Owens' show was refined, undoubtedly. It was easy to imagine women wearing - and more importantly wanting to wear - these incredible garments, not least his floor-length closing gowns, the closest he's ever come to red-carpet show-stoppers. But, alongside the refinement, there was something raw and primeval about these garments. They felt dangerous, thrilling, and genuinely unlike anything we've seen before, picking up on the forms and style of ceremonial garments and age-old costume, shaking it free of its rigidity but keeping ever ounce of its magnificence. The manner in which Owens synthesises different elements together to create unique clothing is one-of-a-kind: when a simple hair-comb throws up seven or eight different adumbrated references, you know you're witnessing something extraordinary. And maybe that's the only short, snappy summary worthy of this exceptional collection.