Rick Owens Fashion Show Is Overshadowed by a Model’s Message


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Jera at the Rick Owens spring 2016 show.

Credit
Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

PARIS — It was Look 25 that stood out, and not for any of the intended reasons.

It takes a lot to upstage snout-like helmets made of frizzed hair, but a German model known as Jera managed it on Thursday afternoon.

As he made his way down the runway in the Rick Owens show at the Palais de Tokyo here, he pulled a piece of white cloth from somewhere beneath his sea-foam-green top and oversize black shorts. And then, as he turned toward the editors and buyers in the front row, he unfurled a hand-lettered banner that read “Please Kill Angela Merkel — Not.”

Social media immediately began to throb with the news, and articles about the protesting model proliferated immediately — though none seemed especially clear on what Jera’s message about Ms. Merkel, the German chancellor, was supposed to convey.

Mr. Owens, who in the past has referred to Jera as his muse, wasn’t sure, either, but made it plain that he was not aware of the model’s plans and did not in any way approve of his actions.

“This was an independent statement,” read a statement issued by his public relations firm shortly after the show, “and does not reflect the opinion of the house of Rick Owens.”

Speaking backstage to a reporter from Women’s Wear Daily, Mr. Owens put it more bluntly: “It’s a crazy, rogue model that I punched when he came back out,” he said, adding an unpublishable third descriptor. “Please say that I punched him.”

Reached by phone Thursday night, Mr. Owens had grown more reflective.

Though he had initially been angry, he said, “Afterwards I thought, ‘I kind of created this.’ Maybe I’ve created an environment where provocation is endorsed or maybe even encouraged. Maybe he saw it as ‘In Rick’s world, anything goes.’ ”

In fact, Mr. Owens added, he had intended the show to be a comment on determination and the danger of such determination tipping into aggression, specifically male aggression. Jera’s gesture, and the designer’s response, ironically dovetailed with just that.

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Jera in Rick Owens’ spring 2015 show.

Credit
NOWFASHION

Mr. Owens is a fearless showman, and his shows have often bordered on performance art.

In 2013, he cast American collegiate step dancers to stomp their way through a widely heralded women’s show. Last season’s men’s show, in a gesture meant to question the idea of bodily shame, featured several models on the runway in outfits that exposed their genitals. Jera was one of these.

The model has worked with Mr. Owens for more than 10 years. He has appeared in many of the designer’s runway shows, and there are several pictures of him on the designer’s Tumblr, including one of Mr. Owens shaving his eyebrows. The earliest dates from 2004. As recently as a few months ago, Mr. Owens photographed Jera nude with a live horse for the magazine Neue Journal.

Jera was discovered 12 years ago on the streets of Cologne, Germany, by Eva Gödel, the owner and founder of the Cologne-based modeling agency Tomorrow Is Another Day. But he is not on the main roster of the agency, working by special booking for only Mr. Owens, who counts him as something of a house favorite.

“He’ll never work again,” said Ms. Gödel, speaking by phone Thursday afternoon. “He’s out of the agency. I’d never expect him to do something like that. No one expected it. I never thought he’d be so disrespectful.”

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Jera in the Rick Owens fall 2014 show.

Credit
Valerio Mezzanotti/Nowfashion.com

She declined to give Jera’s full name or make him available for comment, but added in a follow-up email: “I always said that I can not take any responsibility for Jera if they [would] like to book him, because he is crazy and unreliable. It was always a pain to get him to Rick’s bookings in time.”

Those who knew Jera from Mr. Owens’s studio recalled him as a loose cannon.

“In all honesty, I feel like it’s something that we’ve slightly expected from this particular character, or I have, anyway,” said Angus Munro, the co-founder of AM Casting, who is Mr. Owens’s casting director.

When Jera returned from the runway, Mr. Young and the backstage security guards told him he had to leave immediately, and he did not return for the finale.

“He is a kook,” Mr. Owens said, “and I love a kook.” But he also said that at the moment Jera unfurled the banner, he wondered whether “this is my Valerie Solanas” — referring to the crazed hanger-on who shot Andy Warhol.

And though Mr. Owens said that he and the model had “great warmth for each other,” Jera’s English is spotty and Mr. Owens’s German nonexistent. So even after more than a decade, Mr. Owens said, “our conversations have been pretty vague.”

But he did recall an odd moment from Jera’s fitting earlier this week. According to Mr. Owens, the model produced three cards and asked him to choose between them: “Kill Angela Merkel,” “Kill Angela Merkel — Not” and “Kill the Last Unicorn.”

“I thought it was just a little game, a wordplay thing he was doing for the moment,” Mr. Owens said. He chose “Kill the Last Unicorn”; his wife, Michele Lamy, chose none of them, saying, “I don’t like any killing at all.”

“I guess he figured I endorsed it from that,” Mr. Owens said. “I didn’t know it was going to come back to haunt me.”

After the model’s stunt, Mr. Owens said he would likely not work with Jera again.

Asked whether Jera would be barred from future shows, Mr. Munro said, “I think you would be safe to say that, yes.”



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