Paris Fashion Week: Haute Couture

Rick Owens' bared crotches spark full-frontal men's fashion fallout

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 February, 2015, 6:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 February, 2015, 1:07pm

Is the latest autumn-winter 2015 men's trend to swing your thing? We all know that American designer Rick Owens enjoys outstanding, sometimes outlandish, runway shows - just think of his collaboration with the step-dance sorority girls, or the Estonian hardcore band Winny Puhh for past collections.

But nobody in Paris expected to see "full-frontal" on his runway. With male genitalia out on display from the bottom of cloaks, long tunics and deconstructed tops, this had to be a first in high fashion menswear.

The resulting media drama definitely caused some ink to flow. Opinions were polarised. While some were amused, others were outraged, inevitably bringing to question perceptions of gender and attitudes to nudity.

For some it was simply a marketing buzz, a very efficient one if you consider the press clippings and rankings on Google. For instance, Guy Trebay at The International New York Times reckoned that "it was the flashing that the show will be remembered for, even though it came at a time when, in art or movies or onstage, genital display has largely lost the power to shock". But he also gave the performance a deeper meaning and stated that "by deliberately exposing a few pendant bits of flesh, Mr Owens seemed to be suggesting how tenuous and vulnerable are the basis for what we think of as masculinity".

For others, such as Nedahl Stelio at The Sydney Morning Herald, who gently mocked the performance, Owens' show flared tempers and could be perceived as an affront to decency, or simply a display of bad taste. "Only it wasn't very normal, was it? I mean, you don't get dressed and forget to put pants on, do you? Or wear a piece of clothing that has a hole placed perfectly at the crotch so the public can get a glimpse. In fact, if you were on the street you might be arrested," she wrote. And the next part was inevitable, ineluctable destiny - the creation of hashtag #dickowens.

But how is the fashion industry, known for its open-mindedness and artsy extravagance, shocked by full-frontal male nudity on the runway, some might ask? "A c*** at rest is super annoying," says Alice Pfeiffer, a Paris-based freelance journalist, specialising in gender-related matters. "We are used to seeing phallic symbols, to consider the erected penis as a symbol of power and domination. But a desexualised penis is not a sign of strength any more. Men are traditionally seen as the stronger sex, and Rick Owens completely broke with that hierarchy."

That is one rather esoteric explanation. In 2015, the naked body of a woman has become an integral part of the pop culture inventory (just think of images commonly used in fashion and advertising), often consequently rendered harmless or meaningless. Exposed male genitalia, however, runs the risk of degenerating into a media spectacle.

Moreover, people spent so much time questioning Rick Owens' runway performance they promptly ignored the value of this latest collection. Those deconstructed, upside-down men's outfits, that gave too much unwanted insight onto models' intimate parts, are probably not the most flattering - and you'd definitely want to wear pants.

But Owens' sharp pea coats and overcoats in berber blanket-optic, his long cable-knit outfits, or tunics adorned with graphic patterns were actually highly desirable.

They also matched Rick Owens' main show inspiration, the symbolism of the sphinx - primal and exotic.

"I pass classical marble statues of nude and draped figures in the park every day, and they are a vision of sensuality - yes, but also of grace and freedom," Owens told WWD.

"As a participant in one of our most progressive aesthetic arenas, am I not allowed to use this imagery? I would like to present a utopian world of grace free of fear and shame."