The Tribes of Westwood, Owens and Demeulemeester

The Tribes of Westwood, Owens and Demeulemeester

Images from Irving Penn and the AW11 collections of Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens and Vivienne Westwood.

One of the fundamental effects that clothing has is to identify and categorise people in the minds of everyone else around them. We can be very judgemental and often decide whether someone is “one of us” just by looking at them. It serves as one of our basic ways of aligning ourselves with others, a way of belonging to a certain tribe.

While some designers tend to beat to the drum of being on-trend, others have already cultivated their own communities and are even referencing it within their collections. In the recent Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens and Vivienne Westwood collections you feel that they are speaking in a language that their customers already know and understand, and if you are out of the group and don’t quite get it then it doesn’t really matter to them. They aren’t one size fits all aesthetics, and it would be a shame if they ever became that way because truly this is what is most powerful about these brands.

In the most straightforward symbolic terms there are references in these collections to being in the wild, of making your clothes from feathers and fur and using warpaint as part of your hunting garb. Both Owens and Demeulemeester seem to have supplied the gloves for handling large birds of prey. On the other hand the references are more mixed at Westwood, combinations of slogans and military references and a colourful mixture of cultural references, as though arming her models for a protest afterparty.

One thing that I find connects all three of these collections is that you get a sense that these clothes were actually made by the people walking the catwalk for them to wear themselves. These models do not appear to be the clothes horses of some other power but instead you can almost imagine that they had a part in the way that the clothes were made, as though the look that they are wearing is their individual version of the groups uniform, their own part of the whole aesthetic. I believe this is largely due to the styling which can appear suitably wild (Westwood and Demeulemeester) or suitable disciplined (Owens), as though they definitely all belong to a tribe or a cult of some kind, as though somewhere in the world there is a village full of Owenites who all walk around with their layered clothing and uniformed red lips performing daily rituals and mundane chores.

The use of colour even seems like it could be a symbol of hierarchy in the group. Maybe you only get to wear the red Demeulemeester fur or the black Owen wings if you are the most powerful high priestess in your village. And once these pieces are out in the world this is how they will probably be viewed afterall, certain pieces of clothing or accessories will mean nothing to some people but to others of the same cult, they will be like a secret handshake.

Ann Demeulemeester, AW11, Paris.

Rick Owens, AW11, Paris.

Vivienne Westwood, AW11, Paris.

Catwalk images from»

Photographs by Irving Penn, from 221.270PhotoBlog» and OneFineThread»

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