Rick Owens literally set Paris Fashion Week ablaze with his rousing, soul stirring Spring 2014 show, performed by a step team of 40 mostly African-American women from four different step teams: Step Momentum, Washington Divas, Soul Steppers, and the Zetas. While most who witnessed the production were copious with their praise–Shiona Turini of Cosmopolitan wrote, “Step teams at #RickOwens locked up, mean muggin’ and REPRESENTING a culture so often overlooked in this industry. This meant SO much to me It’s UNREAL. Thank you Rick.“–there were still those, including many of you, who took issue with the energetic display.
3 Step Team Performs at the Rick Owens Spring 2014 Show
Callie Busman of Jezebel.com wrote, “Are these designers serious about promoting diversity, or are they co-opting fashion’s egregious race problem to garner attention and seem edgy? Are they trying to make diverse runways the norm or merely trying to make them into a spectacle?” More of you were concerned with the apparent co-opting of Greek’s step culture. @Shakeira1908 wrote on Instagram, “This is foolery and an utter fail. How is the fashion spectator supposed to appreciate the cornerstone art this is the clothing when you’re too busy trying to shock value them into loving your line by ‘watering down’ the art of one of our (divine 9) fraternity and sorority’s most honored and respected crafts that denotes the history, purpose, and pride of our organizations? #sitdown.”

I wanted an insider perspective, so tapped Fashion Bomb Reader and designer Shantell Richardson aka Stepper #12, who performed in the show. She gave us the scoop on everything that went into the performance, and offered her feelings on the experience.
Shantell Richardson Rick Owens Spring 2014
She said, “Everyone who saw it and everyone who was there, [felt] some kind of strong emotional attachment to it. People were crying at the end. It was beyond. People in the audience were crying. Rick Owens was crying. It was amazing. It was a genuine performance. It was genuine, it was honest, and Rick wanted to honor the art of step.”
Fashion Bomb Exclusive- Interview with Stepper # 12 from the Rick Owens Spring 2014 Show Says It was Not a Gimmick
She continues, “Jezebel questioned if it was a gimmick. Most people who know Rick Owens knows that it’s not a gimmick. It wasn’t a gimmick when he had [a performance] with his menswear collection.” (Rick Owens had members of Estonian band Winny Puhh suspended from the ceiling while playing musical instruments for his Spring 2014 menswear show. See the video recap below):

She added, “It’s not a gimmick when he’s done it many times before, but because he’s doing it with a group of black women, they’re really questioning [his intentions]. And because…there’s so much talk about diversity right now with Bethann, Iman, and Cynthia Bailey calling designer’s out (which is appreciated). But at the same time they have to realize that this wasn’t a performance we just threw together. We’ve been working on this for 5 months. We’ve had to keep it a secret for 5 months. We knew about it 5 months ago and started rehearsing 4 months ago.”

rick owens spring 2014 show soul step momentum

In response to the uproar from fraternities and sororities, Richardson, who has been stepping for 7 years said, “Step is a Greek thing, but there are tons of people who step outside of the Greek. I started stepping in high school, at Boarding School no less. I remember doing chants in the schoolyard before I even knew about step. Yes, we looked to the fraternities. Some of us were Greek, some us were non Greek. And some people were affiliated with sororities who didn’t step under their affiliation. [But in the end], the Greek community should be happy that we at least brought it to the forefront, so people are curious about it and [interested in] learning more about it.”

She added, “People were saying our steps were whack. But then, they don’t realize that we were also showcasing clothing. There was a lot of choreography that got changed the day before. And the fact that we were all able to still come together and do it flawlessly, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I was really excited.”

rick owens spring 2014 show
But what about the mean mugging and yelling? She answered, “The grit face was part of the fierceness. He said, ‘I want you guys to be strong and fierce.’ He did his research, and he said, ‘I really like that, it’s got a real intense energy to it.’ It was about this intense energy, not about us being angry black women. And I had that concern, too, and I brought it up to them, and I said, ‘I really don’t want to be perceived as an angry black women.’ And they explained their position on it, and I understand the inspiration.”

3  ricks owens show it was not a gimmick fashion bomb daily exclusive claire sulmers

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ricks owens show it was not a gimmick fashion bomb daily exclusive claire sulmers

So in the end, I had to ask: why do you think Rick Owens chose to display his clothes in this way? She said, “He’s always trying to bring American sensibility to European fashion. He saw us as an American phenomenon. I think he likes to play around with mixing combinations that shouldn’t go together, but do work. Step teams aren’t really done anywhere else. He wanted to see movement in his clothing. ”
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She also offered,
“It was rendered accessible. We all had different body types. It [wasn’t] just about us being black–we had 3 non black performers, and we went from skinny to larger sized women. Noone ever made us feel anything but beautiful.He could’ve gotten slim Broadway dancers to do the show, but we’re professional steppers. We’ve done performances before, we’ve done performances on Broadway.”
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“… But he said it was a great example of American teamwork. He didn’t say it was a great example of African American teamwork–because we’re American. I appreciate people recognizing that he did something so impactful for the black community and for blacks and diversity in fashion, but I also appreciate the fact that we’re American. We just want to feel accepted. Your home is your home, your country is your country. When people say post racial, I think that’s what we’re getting closer to.”

rick owens spring 2014 show 1
Well, there you have it.
What do you think?
See the full video of the performance here:

Images: Style.com/AP/@Shionat

41 thoughts on “Interview with Stepper # 12 from the Rick Owens Spring 2014 Show; Says, “It was Not a Gimmick””

  1. Interesting take. I didn’t really have any feelings towards it. Great in theory, but execution could have been better (sharper, cleaner), especially if rehearsed for four months. I also think they could have done without the ‘grit’ faces, and still come off as “strong and fierce.” But great job on using women of all shapes and sizes, and giving them a chance to showcase their talent abroad.

  2. Amazing strides! I know this had to be a marvel to watch, even more rewarding to be apart of. I applaud Rick Owens, he KNOWS Black Americans love his pieces and he is obviously influenced by us. I don’t know how anybody could find any wrong in this. The models were so diverse in size and appearance….

  3. Let’s start off to say that I am primarily of Afro-Caribbean descent. First, people are in an uproar that not enough diversity is being displayed on the runway. Now a designer takes steps to showcase black faces, people are still in an uproar?

    Is black America ever satisfied?

    I applaud the effort and look forward to the movement(diversity in fashion) continuing.

  4. Rick owens has said in the past that his clothing was inspired by urban culture so the fact that put it in steppers is bascially showing his appreciation…and on another note this collection looks like clothes a warrior would wear so why not get give the grit face

  5. Honestly, this interview is so awesome. I thought the show was brilliant, and a great showcase of the ARTFULNESS of black American culture.

  6. I agree with Jihan. I thought the concept and performance was Brilliant, and daring (in regard to the fashion world and diversity)! I applaud Rick Owens and the step teams who joined forces to take part. #historyinthemaking. Great post Claire!

  7. I must Say that it is awesome, as a fashion designer i find it inspiring <3

    Gilrs I <3 Fashion Bomb! <3 <3 <3

  8. Very cool post! I thought the show was awesome, something different and intriguing! Was there a full stream of the show or were the people that didn’t find it to their liking going off of 15sec IG videos? I knew when I saw them stepping that those affiliated with Greek Organizations would have a tizzy. Stepping has been done for centuries, it didn’t start with Greek Orgs.

  9. GREAT interview!!!! I give kudos to Rick Owens for having one of the most creative and diverse shows. As someone who stepped in high school and is currently a member of a sorority, I didn’t take offense to this at all. I think it was great.

  10. but when Rick Owens has a fashion show, will there be black women on the runway? this was interesting, and all, but the issue, is black models during fashion week and on that runway. but thanks to Claire, for showing, this, I haven’t seen this anywhere else.

  11. Awesome interview….awesome post Claire! Honestly, I’m baffled. Here we are being showcased in All Our Glory, as we are and people complain STILL. Sure it’s ultimately about the clothes, but this designer could’ve used bone skinny, typical models and had just another runway show. However, he broke with “tradition” and showcased African-American women in all our diverse Awesome-ness and people are pissed because he had the nerve to put on a step show.

    It was said in the above interview that this designer took great care in making sure this step show was a close to being Authentic to the culture as possible. Who can be mad at that? He took care to make sure it would be done properly. We don’t own the ability to do stepping. The problem is so much of Black culture gets appropriated by other cultures and to some of us this feels like that is what happened with this show. However, I don’t feel like that. Bottom line is the international fashion community got to see some Awesome-ness that THEY should otherwise feel privileged to have seen. THEY got to step in our Awesome world. We may not own stepping, but We Do own the ability to bring the Flava and nobody can take that away.

  12. As an aspiring designer and a fashion student. My classmates and I were just talking about how we feel that designers aren’t no linger creative. where is the creativity? but Rick Owens just gave MW everything I needed in this show. I loved it

  13. Totally agree with @S and @Pinchez!! We as Black people are NEVER Satisfied! This Rick Owens, show brought tears to my eyes. Do people realize how many people DO NOT & REFUSE to see & acknowledge the beauty and depth of the Black Woman?! We are at the bottom of the food chain in this world. Any time we are celebrated, no matter how big or small it should be embraced. The next step is how we move forward and make the next celebration of the Black Woman bigger and better. Instead there’s always a complaint. Tsk Tsk!

  14. Absolutely amazing, powerful and beautiful. The show was all that plus, if you go to Style.com, you can see the beauty shots from backstage and see how gorgeous these women are. I love Stepper #12’s explanation and believe this was 100% authentic. As far as the Greeks complaining, child…boo. They don’t own any patents on stepping and truth be told, stepping is an amalgam of numerous forms of dance and performance….it’s not untouchable. Be proud someone saw the beauty in it and support the art your sisters created. I swear people are never happy and will complain about any and every thing.

  15. I really enjoyed the post and as an African Woman who has been stepping since I was 10 years old I think the idea was dope. I hate that everything has to be made into a black/white issue. Why can’t you just see his vision for what it is and take color out of it. Not everything is racial. Not everything is BLACK & WHITE.l

  16. What’s up with the mean mugging and the gorilla faces though? Could he not just make a beautiful collection with beautiful clothes for these beautiful women? Why do they have to look angry and out of order? I can’t

    I’m sorry but this is NOT fashion, absolutely not. Or are we suppose to see any artistic merit here because these are “black” women displaying “urban” culture? Girl, bye! They look a MESS.COM and Rick Owens is the ultimate stunt queen. Good-f*king-bye. Americans and their political correctness. I just can’t.

  17. @ sha

    So what exactly is being celebrated here? out of shape and angry looking black women? They are literally growling like beasts, and this is what you call a “celebration of black women?” I cannot, I just can’t.

  18. So Lola, because these women don’t fit a stereotype of what you consider to be a black woman’s, they are out of shape? The woman interviewed said” No one made us feel anything but beautiful” and so because she doesn’t fit your idea, is her beauty now irrelevant or not applicable? I swear, let us be happy that we were represented and shown with a fierce face to showcase the ART behind fashion and how we can be strong without being considered angry. I am very happy someone who was behind the scenes had a chance to speak up and that a designer who understands there needs to not only be diversity on the runway but in the way that fashion is delivered. Bravo Claire, Bravo Mr. Owens and BRAVO Shantell Richardson for speaking eloquently.

  19. I’m Sorry but come on could they have made better faces. We looked like animals at a zoo, a spectacle. I couldn’t even watch the entire thing. Great idea but a little messy for my taste.

  20. @ DELIA

    Put your argument in a historical perspective sweetheart: Black women have hsitorically been portrayed in West as big, burly, angry and savage: “negresses” as Herman Merville’s narrator would say in Bartleby. That image continues to repeat itself over and over and over and over again. I really do not care what the girl being interviewed said. The proof is in the stereotype and its negative implications, so one interview is not going to erase centuries of oppression.

    Why does fashion not celebrate other forms of black beauty? Why do we continue to resort to the stereotype when we want to celebrate black women? No tea, no shade but these women are literally growling like monsters. Are we only worthy of celebration when we are some jungle and wild creatures? GIRL, BYE!!!!!!!

    Here’s a “progressive” idea. If fashion wants to celebrate black beauty, hire more black models. Revolutionary, I know right? *inject sarcasm* I’m over these gimmicks. Next season, he is going to go back to his 90% white models and these girls will have nothing left but the reality of the stereotype.

    The fact that you guys are co-signing this mess, I just. These women are like zoo animals. I just CANNOT!!! No mam, thank you mam. You can HAVE THAT, ALL OF IT.

  21. No to whomever asked if black americans are ever satisfied? No, we are not. If the models were a size 2, it wouldn’t be a realistic representation of the ‘average’ black woman. But here they’re out of shape and burly. I see skinny, thick, black, white, light, dark, afro’s, perms…I really don’t know what else you people want. Nobody forced these young women to participate and I have faith that if they felt anything less than proud and honored to be in this show, they would’ve declined. If I could afford Rick Owens, I would definitely support. I’m starting to see why other races ignore us. We are so internally conflicted that it would be a waste of their time or energy to even entertain our requests. On a subject as simple as ‘clothes’…

  22. @Lola fashion is an art so it’s not meant to be beautiful. If you make beautiful things it’s that you just want to sell them and not put a reflection in it.

    Rick Ownens has and will always be an outsider in the Fworld. To me this show was a great statement of how the world feel nowadays : angry. The performance was made that dancers were moving like manufacturer products just out of the factory representing the mass in which we are living. But if you take a closer look to the clothes most of them are wearable even if they have this neo-civilization aura.

  23. Oh and LOLA I agree! You stated everything I was thinking! I don’t care what the insider said in the interview.

  24. The beauty in artistic expression is that the viewer will see it in their own individual way and most great art brings out strong emotional responses. I enjoyed the show which should not be taken so literal in my opinion. I’m sure the artist Rick Owens achieved what he set out to achieve.

    This show as not about diversity. It was about stepping and movement. And I loved it.

  25. @ Mel

    And that’s exactly the problem. That’s the ONLY representation black women get: angry savages. And what exactly does this “art” inspire when it is copying from centuries of stereotypical images of black women? How is this revolutionary? Next season, the Caucasian women will be back on the runways and then what???? Y

  26. I didn’t see anything wrong with it. On one hand,we get upset when other races don’t care to recognize or learn about our culture. Then on the other hand, when someone takes genuine interest we get upset because we believe that we are being used for show. We as a people need to stop this way of thinking. If this same show had been done on BET’s Rip The Runway by a black designer then there would be no complaints. Everyone would praise it. Since it’s done by someone who isn’t black on the runways of Europe people are in an uproar. I didn’t see anything disrespectful about it. They couldn’t just get all into the step performance because they are showcasing clothing. There are members of sororities in this showcase and I am sure they wouldn’t participate if they feel like it is a joke. We all know these women rep their sororities hard and they love them. They would never let anyone make them into a joke. We are so worried about how we are perceived by others that we question everything. Sometimes some of the others just want to understand us.

  27. “We are Americans.”
    And he is so right, because when I visit other countries they see me as an American woman and not a hyphenated one.

  28. @LOLA!

    NOT THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! YOUR COMMENT (12:24 am) WAS EVERYTHING! I AGREE WHOLEHEARTEDLY! I seriously wish I could hug you right now for that comment.

    I don’t care what anyone says esp. not non-black Americans who don’t know anything about the race relations here America. You ladies sound ignorant and the steppers look/sound stereotypical.

  29. And you know what really kills me, is that these white folk give the black community a few crumbs and ya’ll lose y’all mind because ya’ll are so desperate to see our own images that ya’ll accept anything!

    We’re so busy trying to get in the white folk’s fashion industry, on their runway that we forget to BUILD OUR OWN!

    Just arse backwards.

  30. Leaving aside the discussion of facial expression, I have to side-eye anyone who can watch that display of dance and athletic prowess and call the women “out of shape.”

  31. @Aries Exactly. I think that’s the key point. It was an interesting concept to say the least but the real issue is with there not being enough models of color on the actual runway. That needs to be the “thing” these designers do to try to be “different” that people aren’t used to seeing.

  32. Honestly, my first thoughts in just seeing this…they look like biblical modernized slaves from the times of the Egyptians…and then when I saw the different groups it reminded me of the Hunger Games for some reason and the stepping across from each other looked like fighting. Random I know but if you pay close attention to the media you will see themes like this portrayed over and over.

  33. i would have been moved to tears if i had been present. great effort on rick’s part and great execution by the ladies. have i seen better stepping? yes, but i dont think this was about that. i think this was amazing. and as the ladies took their “bow” you could really see the lines of the clothes, the drape work, the details, and how they really held up throughout the performance which i think was the point. i’m happy to see us included. excellent work. very powerful.

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