Rick Owens F/W 2015: Groundbreaking, or Branding Strategy?

Just one of the exposing looks from the Rick Owens Fall 2015 Menswear show on January 22nd, 2015

Just one of the exposing looks from the Rick Owens Fall 2015 Menswear show in Paris on January 22nd, 2015 (Style.com)

Perhaps the most notable runway accessory this Paris Fashion Week came from designer Rick Owens’ Fall 2015 menswear show, in the form of a specific piece of male anatomy.

With his collection, Rick Owens had the honor of gracing the Parisian catwalks with their first glimpse of frontal male nudity. The range of responses spanned from shock and disapproval to debates about gender and identity, Owens himself labeled everything from “bizarre” (Daily Mail) to an “envelope-pusher” (Now Fashion). And of course, a barrage of phallic puns have taken social media by storm – #dickowens the most prominent.

In an email to Women’s Wear Daily, Owens referenced male nudity in art, specifically sculpture, and its widely-accepted symbol of “sensuality…grace and freedom.” In a world where female nudity is almost mundane, Owens’ show brings up some significant questions about gender, masculinity, and sexuality – or uses shock value to capture headlines and promote the Rick Owens brand. While other collections (Gucci, Valentino, Prada, Louis Vuitton) have been toying with the feminine/masculine dichotomy, showing more feminine pieces or featuring gender-ambiguous models, Owens takes it a step further. The intense media response to his overt use of male nudity exposes a concept of gender in fashion in which female nudity is accepted as artistic, and male nudity is somehow shocking or undesirable.

Just one of the gender ambiguous looks from the Gucci  Fall 2015 Menswear show in Milan on January 19th, 2015

Just one of the gender ambiguous looks from the Gucci Fall 2015 Menswear show in Milan on January 19th, 2015 (Style.com)

From a branding perspective, Owens seems to be labeling himself as controversial at the most, unique at the least. His 2014 show featured step dancers as models, again a referent to an artistic realm outside of fashion and a challenge to the typical fashion structure. This pattern of going outside the box on the runway begs the question: is Owens a true innovator with a mission to send a deeper cultural message to society, or are these shock-value tactics a part of his brand strategy, a way to ensure the name Rick Owens dominates headlines? The fine line between shock-value and artistic expression is inherent to fashion, a long-standing debate as old as the fashion industry itself. Ultimately, regardless of the message Owens may have been trying to send, his latest show will be cemented in the annals of fashion as the first to feature male nudity, giving him notoriety and increased exposure in the fashion world and beyond.

Rick Owens

“We all know that runway looks aren’t meant to be taken literally, they illustrate an ethos. I would like to present a utopian world of grace free of fear and shame.” – Rick Owens to WWD (image via Wikipedia)

– Stephanie Christofferson

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