With his last two shows tinged by the silhouettes of mid-century couture, you could be forgiven for assuming Rick Owens had forsaken the street for the salon. Not so. If his Autumn/Winter 2011 collection was an ode to Charles James, and last season saw echoes of the aristocratic purity of Hubert de Givenchy's Bettina blouse, this season we were on to Yves Saint Laurent's 1960 Beat collection for Dior, bringing the blouson noir into high fashion.
In actual fact, Owens always has his eye on what real women are really wearing. Those grand couture gestures quickly translated down to retail racks (even the challenging catwalk drama of those Charles James capes suddenly looked believable in store), just as these street touches will easily bubble up to editorial. The key look this season? A knitted cap that fused a beanie with a veil, fishnet strands of mohair enveloping the face and the whole ending up looking more fetish than fashion. The clothes themselves were more of that high-low fusion, exquisite draped wool dresses seemingly boiled to nub and pill the fabric into battered layers wrapped around the models' limbs. Harking back to that YSL biker jacket at Dior, Owens cut his own high on the waist and wide in the arm, cropped like a bolero over a long column skirt and shown in head-to-toe shades of hematite, black and a warm, unexpected apricot. On the flipside, he brought at least half of his models down off their pedestals, sending them out in flat, hardy work-boots he often even denies his men. They were literally closer to the street. Rick Owens wouldn't do that without a meaning.
Overall, this collection was more rugged and less precious than recent outings. Not that Owens is ever brittle, or delicate, or fey, in the way so many designers end up when referencing haute couture. You could never see Owens doing a full-skirted ballgown or pointy-point stiletto like a Rene Gruau sketch. But there was something heftier to this, more to get your teeth into. His criss-cross lumberjack checks in black and white mohair were fantastic, mixed with melton, alpaca and shaved mink. It all sounds terribly luxe, but there was something primeval, raw and almost animalistic about it. Those fetish face-masks after a while became tribal markings, his women a fusion of ancient warriors and a hyper-modern street gang. The flaming backdrop only emphasised it, but even without these garments felt like an aesthetic apocalypse. Maybe that's what this show was about - Owens crashing through and moving himself up, and on. Or in his case down. There were flames in hell too. If Rick Owens took us to heaven for Autumn/Winter 2012, next season it's bound to be hell.