On Rick Owens’ Fashion & Dadaism

Renaud Petit
5 min readMar 7, 2017
Rick Owens Glitter collection, Paris, 2017

Last week in Paris, Rick Owens unveiled his FW17 collection Glitter, and it’s probably one of the strongest demonstration of how Fashion and Modern Art are intertwined.

Glitter is sublime and features all the Rick Owens essentials: Brutalist and mystical silhouettes embodied by XXL quilted coats, oversized sleeves and what is probably the most clever use of layering and textures we’ve been given to see so far.

I am a big fan of Rick Owens myself and tend to have high expectations on what the next season has to be like. Actually, I already had an idea of the main guidelines for the collection’s general style, after having seen the Men version in January during Paris’ Men Fashion Week, and Glitter did not disappoint me for a second. But what really stroke me as I watched this show was the elegance and surrealist style of those brand new headgear that could be seen on every single model. The collection isn’t only inspired by Brutalism, it is also perfectly Dada!

Glitter does confirm the designer’s position as THE greatest and best example of Modern Art in Fashion design.

The venue he has been choosing for almost all of his shows for years is also full of meaning. The Palais De Tokyo is none other than the Paris Museum of Modern Art (and one of the largest of its kind in the world). Glitter is art and Rick Owens comes off as the first contemporary artist to bring Dadaism and the Détournement (rerouting / hijacking) movement to garments and fashion at large.

Rick Owens Glitter collection, Paris, 2017

The God of Anti-Fashion follows the step of Marcel Duchamps, the God of Anti-Art and pioneer of Conceptual Art, Minimalism and Ready-Made.

Dadaism represents pure rejection of the aestheticism and standards of modern society. Détournement and Ready-Made art, which are parts of the Dadaist movement, consist in handling already existing objects or parts of manufactured objects to create new pieces with no or minimum alterations, often by simply repositioning or joining them. Ready-Made usually targets particular social issues and is used as a way to force debate over them

The process has long been used by Owens and this is how we got to see those hats made of long hoodie sleeves in Glitter.

Marcel Duchamps, Fountain, 1917

One of the first examples of Ready-Made was unveiled in 1917 when Marcel Duchamps showed a work consisting in a urinal turned upside down and presented as a Fountain, which shocked the audience and the art-world. As a result, the artist was kept at bay from exhibitions for several years.

Rick Owens Sphinx Collection, Paris, 2015

In 2015, while the #FreeTheNipples movement was starting to range beyond the frontiers of Social Media, Rick Owens showcased Sphinx, a collection in which he aimed at attacking the taboo surrounding male nudity in western culture. The show featured several half-naked male models whose manhood could be peeped through large coat collars changed into long tuniques (another use of Ready-Made there!).

Sphinx got equally praised for being a bold step toward body-acceptance and criticised for being supposedly pointless and vulgar (even by several fashion designers including Karl Lagerfeld).

Many accused the brand of trying too hard on shocking for the sake of communication, ignoring the great artistic effort and social activism behind the collection.

Still, there is no possible denying over the fact that Rick Owens breaks the rules of Fashion and the traditional, classic beauty standards.

But he did not only transpose Dadaism and Ready-Made to Fashion design. His collection depicts our society and culture as they are today, in a globalised world we perceive as declining, hopeless and a lot more severe. He then created a new division, one that is darker, even more minimalist, modern and more honest, of those usually flamboyant, energetic and falsely light-headed movements.

If you‘d like to know more about how Détournement and Ready-Made are used today, you may want to visit the PAN exhibition by Japanese Taro Izumi at the Palais de Tokyo. The artist tried to reproduce acrobatic moves in stand-still installations made from cleverly assembled pieces of furniture.

You can also see the penis-showing Rick Owens piece from the Sphinx collection in Les Arts Decoratifs for the exhibition Tenue Correcte Exigée (which ends on 23rd April). The museum also displays other stunning pieces by some of my favourite rule-breaking designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo (Comme Des Garçons).

--

--

Renaud Petit

Paris-based journalist whose work focuses on tackling the fashion industry’s social and environmental issues. https://renaudpetit.com/mes-publications/