Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Rick Owens has taken us unique journey once again with a striking transition to dystopian times in his SS21 presentation.
The title of this collection — “PHLEGETHON” — refers to an infernal river from ancient greek mythology, which would cause unimaginable pain to those who swam in it or drank it. In Dante’s Inferno, the Italian poet described it as a river of blood that boils souls.
As his models strode through the smoke in the monumental piazza of the Venice Lido, Owens delivered another standout show.
Dressed in various states of dark, pagan warrior chic, atop towering platforms or thigh-high leather waders, Owens’ army came with intensity and purpose.
His show also notes reminded us that the word ‘quarantine’ originated from the medieval Venetian response to the bubonic plague. The collection was at once heroic – with its sheer capes and powerful proportions – and practical. A plethora of jersey dresses and knits were designed to be worn more than one way, depending on whim or circumstance. Straps allowed wearers to strip-off their jackets and tie them around their waists like bustles.
Fishnet tank dresses were upcycled form masks used in a 2012 collection and the designer describes himself as “leaning into a taste for the lurid,” with flashes of bubble gum pink and alarm red.
The “Grim gaiety” of his micro ruffles and ribbons were not about fashion as a form of escapism, but as a defiant response to the times. “Clothes don’t change the world, but they’re part of an attitude that influences the way people think. They’re signifiers, little messages people send to each other,” said the designer.
Despite this air of dissociation, the show was notable as one of the very few held this season where models have actually worn masks. It was fitting, given that Venice’s historical relationship with both facial wear as well as pandemic disease.
More than just thematically apt, it was a noteworthy recognition of the global situation that continues to rage beyond the 15 minutes of a show. As valuable as fashion’s escapist faculty, at its best, it balances that with a perceptive awareness of reality. Phlegethon offered just that.