Apocalyptic Visions: Rick Owens Presents 'Babel'

Imagining a world in turmoil with his SS19 collection, the Californian designer offers a prophecy of the future cast in luxurious fabrics

A steadfast pillar of the contemporary fashion circuit, Californian designer Rick Owens has spent the past 25 years honing his neo-Gothic craft. From his initial training at trade college to his time perfecting pattern cutting in designer knockoff houses across Los Angeles, the Porterville native has naturally cultivated his unique talents and perspective through determination and a wholly individual vision.

Launching his label in 1994, Owens relocated to Paris in the early 2000s with his now-wife and creative partner, Michèle Lamy. Living in a five-storey building, which doubles up as the label’s design studio, Owens pens his latest creations in the heart of the 7th arrondissement. Splitting his time between the epicentre of European fashion and his factories in Italy, the subversive designer produces four collections a year, pirouetting between men’s and womenswear with surprising ease.

Rick Owens 'Babel' - SS19

Striving to deliver an aesthetic that channels post-apocalyptic visions and a glamourous grunge sensibility, Owens’ garments carry an atmosphere of daring yet elegant style. Earning himself the playful moniker ‘The Dark Lord’, the 56-year-old blends a no-holds-barred avant-garde approach interspersed with minimalism, streetwear and military influences. Presenting a breath-taking body of work brimming with biblical and political references, Owens’ label seeks to measure the balance between control, chaos, understanding and confusion. To achieve such a grandiose goal, Owens stretches, mutates and transforms cotton, leather and nylon to a variety of degrees, upsetting the status quo of form and function to deliver a unique characterisation of complex human emotions. Playing with proportion and convention, the familiar is contorted into the alien, a simulacrum in place of normalcy.

Rick Owens 'Babel' - SS19

Presenting his SS19 collection, ‘Babel’, Owens looks to both the bible and Brutalist architecture for inspiration. First shown at the Palais de Tokyo during Paris Fashion Week, the spectacle of the collection proffered respite from the logo-centric offerings of the majority of luxury labels. Set to an extended version of Tommy Cash’s forlorn apocalyptic rap track “Pussy Money Weed”, billowing coloured smoke poured into the air from towers positioned around the weaving catwalk on which Owens’ models relentlessly stormed. Undeniably theatrical and visually stimulating, this audio-visual setting served as the perfect backdrop for Owens’ ecstatic display of wreck and ruin – a glorious amalgam of sophistication and the grotesque.

Rick Owens 'Babel' - SS19

Inspired by towering structures of both hope and confusion, the esoteric designer posits this collection as an examination of the origin myth of the Tower of Babel. A biblical fable, symbolic of mankind’s desire to reach the heavens, the Tower of Babel saw God introduce confusion to a world built on structure, splitting universal human language to create the myriad tongues still spoken today. Utilised as a point of reference here by Owens, the Tower of Babel comes to represent a world of destruction, instigated by hubris and overreaching ambition. Applied to the present day, this vision of a world in turmoil can be interpreted as a perception of contemporary worry and anxiety – a reference and consideration of politically polarising situations across the globe. Taking on this trait, Owens' garments offer a commentary on current events, deftly utilising their abstract appearance and otherworldly atmosphere as a warning signal.

Rick Owens 'Babel' - SS19

Directly referencing this hypothetical building for its thematic weight and physically imposing stature, Owens exhibits a structural collection of garments for SS19. Rugged, distressed detailing and oversized elements combine to illuminate the duality of strength and weakness, an interpretation of the aesthetic of chaos and structure. Cast in his typical earthy shades of black, grey, milk and dust, the designer’s palette reflects the emphasis and importance placed on form. Neutral tones supplement the subtle structural alterations in Owens’ Ready-to-Wear, capturing a complex vision that ensures that even the simple t-shirt is elevated to a work of art.

Taking elements of streetwear, Owens confounds with his choice of bucket hats, oversized sunglasses and shoulder bags. Set alongside his usual crop of parka coats, longline t-shirts and drop-crotch pants, a pair of sneakers in collaboration with German sandal brand Birkenstock offer a muscular and steadfast presence in the face of a world in ruin - a glimmer of hope in a world of destruction.

Rick Owens Babel SS19
Rick Owens Babel SS19

A prophecy of the future cast in luxurious fabrics, Rick Owens’ style continually sets himself apart. Brave and unabashed in its otherworldly nature, the Babel collection affirms his continually evolving practice. High fashion and avant-garde yet inspired by skater and rock’n’roll style, Owens' garments are unrivalled within contemporary menswear. Expertly designed by a true master of the craft, the genius designer presents his visual language as an offer for those who wish to be inspired by the unusual, the alien and the esoteric.

Rick Owens 'Babel' is now available online at END.

writerChris Owen
|photographerAdam Thirtle
|stylistJack Errington