Reading over some of Givhan’s posts, I came across a show that I had not seen covered on the blogs that I follow, namely Rick Owens’ Spring 2014 show. I read her post ‘Rick Owens’ Rejection Of Conventional Beauty’ and thought the presentation sounded interesting since it featured non-models, however it was not until I reached the slideshow and looked at all forty photographs that it really affected me.
As I clicked through to each shot of a woman (mostly brown) with her fierce, angry expression, I felt very uncomfortable, repulsed and a bit angry myself. I began to think, why
would someone want to intentionally perpetuate the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman? Why not have these women styled prettily and presented like works of beauty to be admired as at other shows?
My intense reaction told me that I needed to do some self-examination and see what was going on in my head and heart.
All my life, I have tried to present a pleasing and pleasant appearance, both in dress and expression. Especially as a brown woman with features that read as different and exotic. As a child, this was reinforced to me when a classmate told me that I “looked like a dog” when I was angry. Granted, he was out of line and intellectually I knew that, but still those words made an impression somewhere deep down in my heart. That is why I was bothered about the show, in the context of my life, women (and even more so women of color) are not supposed to show emotion, and heaven forbid they show anger. It is simply not acceptable.*
Having discovered that ingrained belief I steeled myself to watch the entire show.
Oh. My. Goodness. After I got over the hair (wild and seemingly unkempt) and the clothes (I am simply unfamiliar with Rick Owens’ vision) all I could see was the power and beauty in these women (of all colors) who were not afraid to show intense emotion, even anger, in their expressions, and to be physical, to take up space. They wore those clothes, not the other way around, as it is on most runways.
I teared up several times while watching and was crying by the end.
To address the issue of what I read as unkempt hair and unembellished (for the most part) clothes, after doing a little research I discovered that this wild hairstyling and spartan style of dress was not an isolated event, you can see this at Rick Owens’ Fall Winter 2013/2014 show.
As for the almost ubiquitous snarls caught in the slideshow photographs, something necessary to understand is that in Stepping, there is an element called grit face or mean mugging well explained in the comments on this topic in response to an article on Jezebel:
Not to say that is the only expression used in stepping, according to Arin Lawrence, one of the models, it seems to have been selected precisely because of its intensity and likelihood to have the most shocking effect on the audience.
After considering all that, I feel that this show, while not perfect (Though what is? And should we really expect that?) is an absolute work of art in that it touched my soul and made me feel, think and want to share this experience with others. Please watch it if you haven’t already.
*** Super-Duper Disclaimer: Though I am a lover of color, clothes and fashion, I am by no means an expert on the field and art of designers and the history of fashion. Please read this post with that knowledge in mind, thanks!!!
*This point is eloquently addressed in Leelah James’ comment on Jezebel below:
Screenshot of Vogue.com video via Ori Rosenthal on YouTube