Audience members got a little more than they bargained for at Dick—oops, Rick—Owens’ Sphinx fashion show last week. As the show progressed, four male models strutted out onto the runway clad in simplistic ensembles that purposefully revealed the models’ penises. The act was neither flashy nor overtly suggestive.
In fact, it was so subtle that some audience members claimed to not even have noticed the genital display. This can either be attributed to the lack of Marky Mark-sized members, or the fact that we have reached a level of media saturation such that we are no longer shocked by the natural human form. (I tend to agree with the former assessment.)
But it was more than an attempt to be controversial. By not sensationalizing the display, Owens was working to taking the stigma away from nudity and the natural human form.
The fashion industry has long experimented with nudity, from the simple use of sheer fabric to Alexander McQueen’s “Bumster,” a pair of pants that debuted in the 90s and were designed to reveal one’s upper butt crack. Historically, this experimentation has been more common in women’s fashion, but Owens flipped the switch, bringing our attention to the male nude figure.
This is notable because Owens is not usually one to make such statements through his apparel. He typically goes for monochrome collaborations, asymmetrical silhouettes, and layering blacks. His designs are sexy in their simplicity; nothing is too ornate or over-the-top. In many ways, his most recent show was no different—his color palette stuck to neutrals and the shapes of the garments were linear. But as front row viewers quickly found out, there was more skin, and less material, than many had anticipated.
The dick-revealing tunic designs were either ankle-length with crotch peepholes or had long drapes down the sides, but fell quite short in the front.
Despite the lack of practicality in the garment itself, I can see a message behind this effort. Fashion is a choice, and Owens specifically chose to uncover his models’ crotches. They easily could have worn some form of bottoms if Owens wanted them to do so.
It’s not everyday you come face-to-face with a dick while sitting front row at a fashion show in Paris. To be honest, I know if I was present, eye level with a model’s crotch, I too would not expect to actually see it. I probably would have been one of the few fighting back a nervous smile.
Male nudity, especially a flaccid penis, is often treated as a joke. Many of us can’t even reference a penis in a serious tone because of how uncomfortable it makes us. How we see characters react to it in popular television and films—like with the cliché accidental towel drop—confirms this perception. Owens, in a sense, addresses this taboo topic in his show by making the penis, and male nudity as a whole, something other than the subject of mockery.
In an email to Women’s Wear Daily, Owens alluded to just that. “I pass classical marble statues of nude and draped figures in the park every day,” he wrote, “and they are a vision of sensuality — yes, but also of grace and freedom.”
Today, nudity is always political and the battle over the bare body still wages. Clothes are just corporal adornment that have made nudity controversial. Since we are socially accustomed to conceal our skin, especially our genitalia, the act of revealing is now hypersexualized. If nudity wasn’t so systematically stigmatized, a naked body would be just that—a naked body. It wouldn’t come as a shock or surprise to see what you can already access just by visiting your favorite—probably bookmarked—porn site.
Owens, the choice was bold and the actual utility of the peephole garment is questionable. But hey, you’ve got our attention.