Sometimes the simplest things can seem so revolutionary. While the start of the S/S14 season was dominated by a social media campaign by the legendary model Iman calling for more diversity on the runway; Rick Owens put on a breathtaking spectacle that went far beyond fashion to smash our preconceived notions about what constitutes beauty. Fresh from exposing Estonian black metal band Winny Puhh to the world for his menswear show, this time around Owens brought a new obsession to light: the dance phenomenon of stepping. Calling the show Vicious, Owens worked with choreographers, LeeAnet Noble and her mother, Lauretta, who led four step teams from Washington, New York and Atlanta (The Washington Divas, Soul Steppers, Momentum and The Zetas) through a synchronised dance routine that, by the end of the exhilarating 11:24 minutes, felt like a visceral punch to the solar plexus. Clad in Owen’s signature draped and wrapped leather and jersey and shod in trainers that were a collaboration with Adidas, the forty dancers put on their best ‘grit face’ and defiant attitude, chest thumping and stomping in an awe-inspiring display of female strength and sisterhood, in the process transforming his monastic sportswear into something altogether more primal. “I was thinking about teams and I was thinking about bonding together can create something a little bit sinister,” said Owens backstage. “When you think of teamwork, there’s always some sort of a dark side.”
With roots in the footwork and rhythms of ancient African tribes such as the Khoisan and South African gumboot dancing, stepping emerged from the black fraternities and sororities of American colleges in the mid 20th century – schoolyard chants and rhymes giving way to complex dance routines performed with almost military precision. For LeeAnet Noble, accompanying her mother performing all over the country as a child, dancing is literally in the blood: “I've been making rhythms with my feet since I was two years old.” When her mother brought in Owen’s creative director, Asha Mines to see a performance of theirs at New York’s Kennedy Centre, the seeds were sown for a future collaboration. “I wasn't aware of Rick Owens until I was approached but I quickly did my research and fell in love with his line,” confesses Noble. “Fashion to me has always flowed from the streets, real people and popular culture.”
"The forty dancers put on their best ‘grit face’ and defiant attitude, chest thumping and stomping in an awe-inspiring display of female strength and sisterhood"
Over the course of five months, the duo would recruit the different step teams whilst devising the routines under the direction of Owens. “He wanted intensity, a tribal feel and everything had to be in sync and clean. It told a story of separate teams all connected by the same thread and becoming one at the end. The choreography had to reflect all these aspects.” The riotous response by the crowd to the show matched the ecstatic feelings of the dancers: “We truly became sisters in this performance and we were tied together bringing the vision to life and to introduce Paris to the art form of stepping. In the midst of performing, I was watching the performers making sure the cast members were hitting their lines and everyone was in synch and I knew in the moment we achieved what we came there for.”
What was a revelation about the whole experience was how inclusive and celebratory it felt – by showing the clothes on a wide range of body types, Owens talked about “rejecting conventional beauty and creating our own beauty.” Noble agrees, “I look at fashion as art and art is a reflection of what is happening in the world and should never be closed off. I believe this show broke down barriers that may have yielded other designers from stepping outside of the box.” By completely exploding the tired catwalk formula, Owen and his vicious, fearsome band of steppers were showing us a brave new future.
Text by Kin Woo