We clapped.  We cheered.  We whooped.  But did we fully understand the subtext of Rick Owens' S/S 14 showformance?  There was mild anticipation beforehand that Owens would come up trumps with a performance like his mens S/S 14 show where Estonian hardcore band Winny Puhh thrashed about  Owens described that at the time as "cheerful viscousness".  There was certainly much to cheer about at yesterday's womenswear S/S 14 show but cheerful would be the wrong word to describe what for me, was one of the most provocative and pertinent statements I've seen in a fashion show.  

Four troops of women, thumping their chests, grouped up by their attire into (white, sand, brown and black – well they are classic Owens' colours but read into that what you will) came out in perfect unison.  They were the Soul Steppers of New York, Washington Divas, Momentum and Zetas of Washington D.C.  This was stepping, rooted in African-American college sororities – described by Tim Blanks as a combo of "step dancing, cheerleading, and military drill".  They scowled, they growled and they looked like you would not want to fuck with them.  This was their "grit" face intended to scare competition.  They be stepping like mad in Owens' layered garb that allowed them to move – vaguely Grecian and draped – as a nod to sorority origins. 

Many just cheered it on as thought it a pure aesthetic and cultural showcase and celebration of what stepping is about.  And somehow, most that have written about it has skirted around the issue of what a performance like this means in the context of fashion at large.  These steppers were mostly black, not of the "ideal" body size that fashion puts on its runways, in its advertising, editorials and generally consider to be attractive and they looked vicious – they're not conventional "beauties".  A plaintive statement of diversity, that is sorely lacking in fashion across all areas – media, models and designers.  I was incredibly grateful that the steppers were the stars of the show as opposed to the bit part intro to the "real" models – that would have been a mooted statement.  Instead, most of us who weren't just thinking "Oh, isn't this FIERCE and exotic?" were invited to examine the state of fashion as it stands in its undeniably warped attitudes towards size, race and beauty.  If Owens' "outsiders" and "fringe figures" have always found solace in his clothes, then that feeling of inclusion could only multiple after this show.   

A quick search on Twitter immediately after the show already yielded comments such as "Elegance in Paris is dead #rickowens" and "WTF is this?  Ugly as fuck".  That saddens me, not because they didn't get it, but that they have been so numbed into a certain ideal of what a fashion show should look like that they felt they had to pass judgement immediately when they were confronted by something vaguely unfamiliar to them.  

There have also been accusations of it being a gimmick floating around on the Twittersphere that it was all a gimmick-y ploy.  Owens has garnered the sort of following that is second to none.  He could show shapeless hessian sacks on the runway and still get away with hordes of cheers.  He is one of the few purist designers around that doesn't really need a gimmick.  Instead, he chose to celebrate, and in turn to make a point.  One that needs making.  Where exactly have all the salient points gone in fashion?

For a louder, less polished view of the stepping, these are some of the clips I took… 

Comments (28)

  1. Joana says:

    I love when a designer goes against the conventions and norms and manages to surprise in an industry that finds it hard to be impressed.
    Love, When You Dream Big x

  2. Elisa says:

    Amazing!!
    xx Elisa
    My Fantabulous World

  3. WAM says:

    Can I just say, it is so difficult to find someone talking about what actually happened at the Rick Owens show. This was huge! I really liked what you said about the inclusion of outsiders growing because of this collection. There have been so many events and ploys to get more people into fashion to save the industry, like Wintour running fashion night out, but Owens is really spreading the message of fashion to the outskirts. anyway, really enjoy reading your posts!

  4. Javier says:

    It is disappointing that more heads aren’t talking about the force of his step presentation.
    It was a culturally-empowering, direct slap in the face to the general lack of racial and size diversity in the industry. And, being from the DC area originally, I personally love the fact that he used step troops. In addition to being utterly commendable, it was so very American (in my opinion, despite taking place in Paris). It also makes me smile because it reminds me so much of old school R&B choreography (think Janet Jackson). Really fucking well done.

  5. Anna says:

    Loved this show – Perfectly described in this entry
    http://aforvogue.blogspot.co.uk/

  6. Simone says:

    I think it’s very brave what he did. Fashion is too often just played by the ‘rules’. Designers need to step up and do things as refreshing as this initiative. Fashion should be more about art an thinking outside the box and less about business or sizes and so on… http://www.flaircat.com

  7. Lia says:

    While I agree with your analysis and all of the above commenters, I’m really curious to see if, come March, the sample sizes on models for the magazines are these same runway outfits.
    I feel there is a powerful reflection on the state of fashion, the use of fashion and what fashion stands for in the show. But I’m afraid there will be an appropriation of the subculture and its uses when the time comes for the collection to be “digested” by the system. It’ll be “cool” to look like a stepper, scowls included.
    Will editors decide to exhibit the pieces from the collection in total looks on tall skinny models? (And, as an aside, I thing its the former, not the latter, what alienates us most to catwalk fashion, with their height and the heels models present a silhouette that’s absolutely impossible to attain). If they do, I’m certain they’ll look stunning, as the clothes by themselves are fresh, pared-down and relevant.
    Or will they choose to show them mixed up on a wider variety of models? That’s probably a much, much harder thing to do right and I’m hoping someone will have the guts to at least try it.

  8. I just loved that he used steppers in his show and real women. It’s so sad that people are so hypocritical to these lovely ladies bc they are beautiful and fierce.

  9. I loved it! Some critics said it was difficult to focus on the clothes, but I thought the opposite. Seeing the clothes move in such an exaggerated way made me notice them more, I was paying so much attention to how the clothes moved, especially those dropped-crotched jumpsuits and fitted leather vests (see? already I remember more from this show than any of his previous ones!)
    I had a similar elated feeling when I saw Stella McCartney finally, finally! use athletic models in her Adidas collection who could actually fill out those spandex shorts properly and do justice to the clothing.
    But mostly I want to know which undergarments they used in the RO show, because those women had tits and there was minimal bounce and amazingly no sign of VPL anywhere, which is a miracle for RO clothing!

  10. susie_bubble says:

    Good point but I do feel there will be publications out there dying to set up a shoot with those exact same steppers to get across the point of the collection. It was so inspiring on an editorial level that to put these clothes on the normal waify-models would really lessen the effect I think of the collection (I’m speaking from an editorial point of view…. the clothes are obviously great for shape/size). I should hope there would not be editors crass enough to “appropriate” step culture – e.g. making Julia Nobis adopt scowl face and stomp around on a photo shoot

  11. Danielle korneliussen says:

    Yesssss Javier!!! Yes yes yesssss! Love what you wrote!

  12. hi. I believe the big thing that went on the runway that day was the power of it all – so un-mooted – to strip away the usual associations and titles. diversity, size (or the unbearable “plus size”), even ugly – Owens made all those words sound so boring, and in truth, they are. I didn’t know what they did was called “stepping”, I don’t care that came from NY or Washington – all I know is that the immediate power, that was also reflected on Susie’s initial instagram comment, is the thing that makes this show a stand alone,. more importantly: it’s the thing that makes this show a real game changer. that is slang for saying: IF YOU ARE A THINKING DESIGNER, YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO IGNORE WHAT OWENS DID ON THURSDAY. that is a tremendous feat and while I’m definitely no fashion historian, I know that these feats are extremely rare, and that they have become close to un-existing for the past 5-10 years. I cherish this feat, this momentum of power, and for the people who aren’t able to understand it – sorry, I definitely mean FEEL IT – well, I dare say that they don’t and they won’t really matter.

  13. Elliestac says:

    Great coverage… How depressing that some idiots saw this as gimmicky… How do people justify showing shape and racial diversity as “gimmicky” – er.. what are they, fashion Nazis?
    Well done Rick Owens.
    Thank you for a wicked piece on it Susie.
    I hope the editors deal with the pieces respectfully as Lia pointed out. We shall see.

  14. Kirbybee says:

    Thank you Susie, for providing some commentary on the Rick Owens show that doesn’t just skim across the surface. As an ‘outsider’, Owens is ideally placed to make such provocative statements with his shows. But the true test is what happens when the clothes hit the editorial circuit. While Owens shone a bright, and loud, spotlight on issues of diversity not only in colour but also in size and shape, how that is transferred to the pages and screens and shop floors of magazines and retailers is, perhaps, the real story.

  15. CKBoss says:

    Yes – thank-you Ms. Bubble

  16. CKBoss says:

    I hope it’s just a brave beginning. Thank-you Rick Owens and thank-you Susie.

  17. Audrey says:

    Seeing as editorials have done black face and white models with their eyes taped back to look Asian, I wouldn’t put the appropriation past some editors who aren’t really known for their racial sensitivity.

  18. Crazy to hear that people were bashing him on Twitter for doing this. I completely agree, I was so glad that it wasn’t just an intro to a regular catwalk show. I think it was a really brave and bold step. I’d like to see more designers think outside the box in the way they show their clothes. Hopefully we’ll see more changes like this in the future.
    Also, really agree that it will be interesting to see how this is translated into editorials. xx

  19. Caroline Lee says:

    amazing show and very thoughtful commentary on your part, Susie. I do see why some might consider it to be cultural appropriation, but the fact that the performers themselves are actual steppers, and not just made-to-look as such, makes this point a bit less persuasive. I hope its influence extends into the future of fashion, and that it proves to be a game-changer in the presentation of fashion in the future.

  20. Denise says:

    Thank you, Susie. What a powerful presentation, and what a shame it scared some people. This is the way to present accessible fashion. I’m not completely convinced that (all) women really do actually want to see themselves – AKA the ‘real woman’, whoever that is – as emotionless stand-ins for the ’6 foot 17 year-olds’ on the catwalk. I don’t think it works; it backfires a bit as it comes off as self-conscious spectacle. But what Rick Owens has done here transcends the body and celebrates the spirit of the woman. He’s figured it out, and he was validated when the audience responded with tears and cheers (it choked me up on my laptop alone). Let’s see what happens next.

  21. Tish says:

    I love that you see beyond…there’s hope for us all yet!

Comment below