Photo of LeeAnet Noble (Dance Choreographer) via Into the Gloss

Reaction to the Rick Owens Spring/Summer womenswear 2014 show in Paris has been swift and divisive. In the presentation Rick eschewed the use of traditional models and instead assembled a team of step dancers recruited from US sororities. With the lack of racial diversity on fashion week runways  making headlines in the lead-up to New York fashion week, many fashion commentators have cited Rick’s casting choices as a reaction to this. Rick Owens may have wanted to make a statement, but I believe it for personal one, not a political one. He cast the show the way he did because that’s he wanted to do creatively. Rick Owen’s motives for casting the show the way he did should not come under attack, instead we should praise him for having the courage to exercise his creative license. At a time when most fashion shows are forgotten about the day after, Rick Owens was able to make a meaningful statement AND a fun spectacle. No small feat at a time when most editors spend half the show on the phones.

May I remind you that this is the same Rick who selected an Estonian metal band Winny Puhh to play at his Spring/Summer 2014 men’s show . This is the same Rick Owens who listens to Katie got Bandz on the regular. Rick Owens has always been known to go his own way and this season he was able to present a vision that is pretty much the polar opposite of what’s considered desirable in the fashion industry. The presentation was not exploitative but honest to his headspace in 2013. There’s an strong theme of tribalism found in Rick’s body of work so it’s not surprising that he would find inspiration in the energy of American step teams. Those who deride this collection as mere PR trolling are missing the point (ironically they may be trolling for attention themselves through their accusations). Rick spent months preparing for this show and the production would have doubtless been countless times easier if he just cast through a modeling agency. The show’s dance captain and choreographer LeeAnet Noble made this statement about how sorority stepping what caught Rick’s attention on Into The Gloss.

“I have been stepping for most of my life—I was in the show Stomp on Broadway and I had done a show before with one of Rick [Owens]’s producers. Rick had seen some videos online of sorority stepping. Women steppers are hard. When they came out with stepping in sororities, they embodied the intensity and togetherness that the men’s groups had previously shown, the sisterhood. And when Rick saw the clips, he thought that their intensity embodied the vicious pieces, strong materials, and colors in his collection.

For an industry that’s supposed to be driven by creativity, there’s a surprising lack of it on each season’s runways and shop selves. Instead of original ideas , we get overworked designers rushing to put out more of the same. The same (mostly-white) models, walking down the same runways, with  similar clothes based off the same trends. Stylists also, are repressed in their creative output with many companies putting strict restorations on just how their clothes can be worn (many labels will won’t allow stylists to deviate from the runway looks). I won’t even get into how ads for high-fashion labels all look the same.

I emphasize with the the pressure that comes with the unrelenting fashion calendar and the constant push for higher sale numbers from investors but as Rick showed with his Spring/Summer 2014, there’s always a different way to do things. You can choose to market your brand differently. You can choose to to cast your show as you please. You can choose to skip out a fashion week presentation entirely. Rick should be applauded for expressing his vision in such an unexpected way. With the passing of Alexander McQueen and the downfall of John Galliano, Rick Owens is one of the last few showmen in the industry.  The shocking thing  shouldn’t be that Rick Owens did something groundbreaking this fashion month, it’s that no other designer even tried to.

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