Talking about beauty looks at a fashion show is generally trite, predictable, bland. Not so at Rick Owens, where models habitually sport fluffed-nutter, dandelion-head hairstyles, are marbled all over like Neoclassical statuary or, occasionally, wear a classic couture-red lip to counter ‘a Brutalist veil’ of fishnet knit beanies tugged down over the head (the critic Tim Blanks likened those to Hannibal Lecter’s muzzle – the description fits). The quote that comes to mind belongs to Francis Bacon – 16th-century English philosopher rather than visceral fine artist, although both are connected to the Owens oeuvre. Bacon the older wrote: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” Owens’ beauties are excellent, but they are decidedly strange.
For his Autumn/Winter 2018 collection, Owens once again proposed quite a look. If the source material of the aforementioned Owens looks gives a lightbulb moment when recounted (the giant hair was an ode to Gustav Klimt’s geometric-bobbed heroines; the carmine lips an homage to Marlene Dietrich), this season’s was more obtuse. “The reference for this particular women’s show was the same as for the men’s show – Sisyphus,” says Sammy Mourabit, the make-up artist behind the A/W18 Owens show. For the uninitiated, Sisyphus was the arrogant king of Greek mythology punished by Zeus to undertake the onerous and eternal task of rolling a massive boulder to the summit of a mountain, only for it to roll down and his task to begin again. For Owens, that winds up a story about “futility… a story of patterns monotonously repeating themselves without progression”. An ironic, inspirational side-eye at the world of fashion itself? Perhaps.
But what does that look like? “It’s not an exercise of style when it comes to make-up, or any personal ego trip for make-up artist, it’s a very organic way to facilitate the vision of Rick,” says Mourabit. “When it comes to make-up design, you have to take those directions in a more abstract way.”
Mourabit is a trained special effects artist, theatre artist and make-up artist with over 30 years experience: unlike most fashion shows, all these potentially come into play when creating the ever unusual looks for Owens. Discussions for the maquillage start around two weeks before each show. “I never push Rick to give me something precise,” he says. “I’d like to say that I’ve started to understand his universe by now and it’s up to him when he is ready to take a specific direction, or not. Often after the make-up test we go back to something different. And it’s fine, that’s his process and again I am there to help him to my best abilities, to meet his needs.”
“It’s not an exercise of style when it comes to make-up, or any personal ego trip for make-up artist, it’s a very organic way to facilitate the vision of Rick” – Sammy Mourabit
Alongside both the hair stylist Duffy and the stylist Panos Yiapanis, Mourabit works on both men’s and women’s collections for Owens. There are other crossovers, of theme often, recently even of name (both the winter collections were titled after that aggrandising mythological ruler). “I don’t think Rick makes any difference when it comes to gender,” he says. “They are human with heads, legs, feet and torso.” Often, all the above are canvases for make-up – as with this show, where some models were entirely painted in white ‘clown’ make-up, entirely flat, with white eyelashes. These were the most dramatic – like chalky statues come to life. But other models’ make-up also had art references embedded in them. “Lots of paintings in art history and museums have similarly white, pale or matte faces,” states Mourabit. “Rick’s universe is that.”
“Lots of paintings in art history and museums have similarly white, pale or matte faces. Rick’s universe is that” – Sammy Mourabit
What is beauty then, in Rick Owens’ universe? “There are no glamorous faces in Rick’s universe,” Mourabit states, combating our general notion of what ‘beauty’ should mean. “The notion of beauty is a very personal one and Rick has his own, I have my own, you have your own – I’ve travelled 185 countries during my career and I saw any and every form of beauty. So for me beauty is not a meaningful word, but a restricted one. Rick’s models carry a form of ‘beauty’ which is not conventional in the fashion world, but maybe it is in other countries.... Maybe Rick truly sees people and humans, and the rest of the designers are blinded to the concept of what beauty should be?”
That is as strange, but all the more beautiful for it.