To say Rick Owens is one of the most curious designers of our time is not a stretch, nor an understatement. In an interview with Surface magazine, the designer addressed his propensity for provocation during his runway shows, but more specifically, the rarely mentioned side of male body shame that he sought to address with his Fall 2015 men's show, which presented garments with crotch cutouts.
"Why did your parents teach you that your penis is ugly? All the most conservative or vehement reactions were: 'How disgusting! Why would anyone want to show a shriveled up nutsack like that?'” And: “'Why was it so small?' It was amazing that the second thing was why was it so small? Like, Who taught you as a child that it was supposed to be bigger? And that it was ugly?"
He told Style.com's Tim Blanks that his efforts were rooted in "a bit of juvenile transgression." Blanks added, "True, it was somewhat enigmatic that he would choose to place a porthole over the groin of some of his models, but he did say he was inspired by an old French movie set in a submarine. And the grace — or not — under pressure of men in close quarters was his launchpad."
The idea that body-shaming is only a woman's burden is a popular one. And while it's true that there are infinitely more arbitrary pressures and importance placed on the female body, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist for men in a very real way as well (see: the violent reaction from men who felt that a recent Mashable article shamed their toes). The reaction that Owens got — that it was a Zoolander scene in real life — makes sense. But Owens doesn't expect his customers to walk down the street with their penises out, just like he doesn't expect his clothes to be worn with silver face paint. It's not literal fashion — it's fashion presented as commentary about how we clothe ourselves and what we're saying through our clothes when we do.
Regardless of gender, we could all stand to be a little kinder to ourselves. Rick Owens is fully aware of that. "Whenever I do provocation, I’m always doing something that I feel is based on warmth and kindness and love," he told the magazine. How's that for something new?