After years of enduring various fashion show shenanigans, the bunker in Bercy – as Rick Owens has dubbed his gymnasium show space – finally got to be used for its actual purpose. Stage scaffolding straight out of Rent towered over the runway in the blacked-out sports hall and scratching amplifier sounds slowly turned into a beat as members of American college step teams emerged on the staircases. If they were mimicking the hand-to-shoulder military move of Michael Jackson’s choreography for They Don’t Care About Us it perhaps wasn’t unintentional, because the raw emotion, rage, and empowerment eventually conveyed through the formidable spectacle put on by the Soul Steppers, the Momentums, the Washington Divas, and the Zetas – flown in by Owens and fitted in his Spring/Summer 2014 collection – wouldn’t have looked wrong in a mid-nineties MJ video.
As foreign as step may have been to most of the congregated fashion press (there were some pretty priceless expressions on the front row), it was clear it wasn’t hip-hop, even if Owens let a gansta bandana or two slip into the collection. It was Glee without the jazz hands and the self-pity. Owens never practised step himself, he explained backstage, but rather the show was an extension of one of the cornerstones of his work: the portrayal of American culture through the eyes of a Parisian catwalk. Giving The Rick Owens Workout an entirely new connotation, the girls stomped and grimaced their way through the collection, an exceptionally sporty take on the brutalist signature of Owens, which paid its own homage to the season’s Japanese fashion themes of asymmetry and oriental costume detailing, but also in large part drew on elements from active and performance wear.
The collection itself may not have been revolutionary for Owens, but what the designer has been doing for the past couple of seasons has much more to do with exploring the diversity and versatility of his already fully established universe than it does expanding his aesthetic. And while Owens said next season would likely see a return to the sample size models, who normally inhabit his catwalks, Thursday’s show perhaps also felt a little bit as if he struck a blow for the fuller figured diehard Rick Owens fan, who is surely out there somewhere amongst those skinny, scrawny goths. This is what cheerleading looks like at Owenscorp.