Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Rick Owens SS24 Lido at Paris Fashion Week

Off the back of my interview about Rick Owens in the Financial Times I managed to score an invitation to his womenswear show at Paris Fashion Week. Obviously there wasn't the slightest possibility that I wasn't going to go, but all the same, Eurostar prices being what they are these days, the trip felt like a bit of extravagance: I’ve been to a handful of fashion shows before and generally it’s a lot of rigmarole just to watch people walk back and forth for ten minutes. (See also my recent misgivings about travelling eighty miles to glimpse a flying squirrel.) As it turned out, though, none of that prior experience was relevant, because a Rick Owens show is an entirely different beast.

The woman sitting next to me on the Eurostar worked for Alexander McQueen, and I kept wanting to ask her: how early can I get to the Rick show without looking like the kind of loser who get tos a nightclub right when the doors open? I often watch the livestreams of the shows, so I knew that they begin at least half an hour late and nobody who matters gets there on time, but I also wanted to be there soaking up the atmosphere for as long as possible. In the end, I headed to the Palais de Tokyo for about 5:10pm, i.e. twenty minutes early, thinking that if the place was empty I could just turn around and wander along the Seine for a while. From a distance, I saw a huge throng milling around outside, and thought to myself “Wow, I really didn’t expect the door situation at a Rick Owens show to be so disorganised, I'm surprised the fashionistas put up with this, and also why are they here so early?” Then as I got closer it dawned on me that this wasn’t the door situation — this was just the people who’d come to gawk at everybody coming in, like at a film premiere — i.e. they’d come to gawk at ME!!!!!!!

I had no idea this happened at Rick shows, but it probably helps that (unlike most brands) they’re in the same location every season, so everybody knows where to go. Of course, I can’t help but have mixed feelings about it, because that throng is the physical embodiment of Rick becoming a celebrity fashion designer; I’m pretty sure nobody was waiting outside his shows a decade ago when I first got into him. I don’t have any inherent objection to Rick breaking through into the mainstream — he deserves it, and it hasn’t diluted the work — except for the fact that it’s caused a huge rise in prices, both retail and second-hand, that has made it impossible for me to actually buy the clothes. Thinking of that throng as the people I am now competing with to snag a pair of trainers off Grailed makes me somewhat more coolly disposed to them.

So I showed my invitation at the door and strolled in past the slathering looky-loos, honouring one or two of them with a regal glance which they will no doubt cherish to their deathbeds. I found my seat, but I was reluctant to sit down right away, because the seat was a long way from the entrance, and the truth is… I too am a slathering looky-loo! I wanted to gawk at everyone coming in as well! So I hung around at the front for so long that two different staff members asked me if I needed help and then a third had to politely instruct me to sit down because I was getting in the way.

But it was worth it. A Rick Owens show is the only place in the world you can go wearing head-to-toe Rick Owens and still feel abjectly underdressed. There were lots of gorgeous new-season outfits, and it was fun seeing how different people dealt with the impractically long trails of their Luxor gowns: one woman carried hers in her hand while another just let hers drag on the ground. But I also noticed archival pieces dating back fifteen-ish years. Obviously for a Rick obsessive all this was a thrill to see in person, but even if you didn't know a Geobasket from a Mega Creeper I think it would still be dazzling: it was, in the best sense, an absolute freak show. The single funniest look I saw was a guy dressed all in black Rick except for his bright purple Neon Genesis Evangelion baseball cap. It was an unseasonably warm afternoon and a lot of people must have been melting inside their leather tunics, but what are you going to do, take off the outfit you’ve been planning for weeks??

Finally I did sit down, and fell into conversation with my friendly seatmates. I am not usually a person who either takes or posts selfies, but the thing is, people often ask me what the life of a novelist is really like, away from the readings, away from the literary festivals…

And the answer is, it’s like this. This sums it up. This is the bread and butter, the basic situation. Fundamentally this is what we are referring to when we talk about 'the writer's life.' In fact the one sense in which this image fails to reflect my everyday existence as a literary novelist is that it shows me next to only two beautiful women wearing the famous Rick Owens Prong dress whereas normally I am with upwards of five or six beautiful women wearing the famous Rick Owens Prong dress.

The show began with pink smoke, a Diana Ross remix, and confetti cannons showering us in rose petals. Now, as Rick shows go, this wasn’t one of the historic spectacles, either in terms of stagecraft or in terms of the clothes themselves: in this later period of his career we more often see incremental changes from season to season, and so it was here. Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous collection and to be there watching it in person was, for me, heart-stopping. No doubt a lot of the fashion-industry people had been to dozens of these and were a bit numb to it, and I’m happy that will never happen to me. Also, numbness was not at all the prevailing atmosphere. Unless I was imagining it, there was a shared awareness and excitement amongst the audience that we were in the presence of genius: obviously I believe Rick is the greatest fashion designer of modern times, but even if you aren’t as much of a cultist as I am you could not with a straight face put him outside the top five.

One thing you really don’t get a sense of in the livestreams is the way the models at a Rick show walk, which is totally different from the pouty arm-swinging stride you might imagine when you think about models on a catwalk. These shaven-headed figures in their veils were slow, sepulchral, their faces at once vacant and grim, their gaits at once shambling and steady, like a zombie in a deportment class, or a sleepwalker dreaming only of revenge. Of course as an onlooker you know on some level that they are not these things, in fact they are just nice young women thinking about where they’re going for apéro, but I suppose walking the runway is a bit like sex: above all it’s about maintaining the persuasive illusion that there is nothing going on in your head beyond the physical act that you’re engaged in.

The show ended, but, again, I wanted to stretch the experience out for as long as possible, so I just hung around. And under the auspices of a shockingly nice Rick Owens PR woman — I say shockingly because the Paris fashion industry is not exactly known for its friendliness; then again, the PR team is based in New York, and the Rick Owens store in SoHo is famous for being by far the most welcoming experience of its kind even if you wander in dressed like a normal person with no intention of buying anything, so maybe there’s some special penumbra of interpersonal warmth around the whole Rick Owens NY operation (sorry, I may be getting too deep in the weeds here…) — because of her, I managed to get into the post-show drinks, which take place in the area where the models are dressed and styled. By this point, Rick himself had left and the champagne had run out, plus I didn’t know anyone so once again I found myself just sort of loitering around, but it was still extremely cool to be in this place I recognised from so many backstage photos. And then the afterglow continued even down in the Métro afterwards, because the same way when you’re going home on the Tube you can tell who’s just been to the same gig as you, I could easily pick out the stragglers from the Rick show.

During my trip to Paris I also went for the first time to both the Fondation Cartier and Francois Pinault’s refurbished Bourse de Commerce. Both of these buildings are in some sense monuments to how luxury goods companies, which have some of the most outrageous profit margins in the world, keep piling up so much money that they barely know what to do with it all. Of course, I’d rather the money was spent that way than on another super-yacht, but all the same I don’t see how you could walk into the Bourse de Commerce carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag without thinking ‘Am I a chump? Am I being milked?’ And yet the Rick Owens show is the same. Who’s paying for all that spectacle? Me! I've been paying it for ten years! All I am is a goth chump! But after experiencing it for myself, I never want to be anything else.