Rick Owens’s Outfit, 2011, featured in the designer’s spring–summer menswear collection. The runway show was presented in an indoor sports arena in Paris on 24 June 2010 amid jarring techno music and intense jets of smoke firing down from the ceiling over the models and front-row guests. The effects set the scene for a collection that combined elements of rough and smooth, austere yet luxurious; the type of clothes one expects from Rick Owens. But there were some surprises, a new severity of line and a combination of hard and soft materials.

Central to Rick Owens’s sombre aesthetic is his notion of ‘broken idealism’, a sensibility that infuses the refined and flawless with the raw and the irregular. Owens’s perfectly cut and quite sculptural clothes acknowledge and subtly resonate with the work of those artists he most admires, such as the bleak installations of German artist Joseph Beuys, the minimalist grandeur of French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank and the languid modernism of Parisian couturier Madeleine Vionnet.

Owens’s manipulations of shape and proportion often result in dramatic, elongated silhouettes that are common to the clothes he designs for both sexes. The designer has generally been known for using glove-soft suedes and leathers, very fine wools and sheer cottons in a subdued palette of blacks, mid-browns and whites to make clothes with a fluid elegance. However, in the recent 2011 Anthem collection Owens experimented with more rigid fabrics that held their shape, such as the thick cowhide jackets that were inspired by 1950s Swedish furniture.

The outstanding feature of Outfit is the stiff, sleeveless leather jacket with side panels made from thick brown calfskin that give the garment an assertive presence. The jacket is closed with a heavy metal zipper that slices through the torso and around the neck towards the high and sharp-angled collar. In contrast, the back of the jacket is made from woven cotton that sits gently against the body. The rest of the ensemble combines similarly soft and hard elements: a long-sleeved T-shirt in fine, slate-coloured cotton; gauntlet-style bracelets made from thick black calf, shaped into a deep cuff encircled with multiple discs; black cotton shorts overlaid with a popeline skirt; and hefty boots featuring long, wide ‘spats’ that crumple to the ground.

Rick Owens established his eponymous label of women’s clothing in Los Angeles in 1994 after attending art school and, later, training and working in the fashion industry where he honed his skills for precision patternmaking. Over the next decade his womenswear collections garnered a cult following; his menswear collection was launched in 2003. In the same year Revillon, the French furrier and luxury goods company, appointed him artistic director; Owens also formed a partnership with an Italian backer and manufacturer, all of which spearheaded his relocation to Paris.

Roger Leong, Curator, International Fashion and Textiles, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2011).