Rick Owens, never one for subtlety, took his beauty looks to the extreme this season. Models had pale complexions offset by grayish-brown contouring, blackened-out eyes, hairlines that began at mid-scalp, and prosthetic facial protrusions, all conjured up by an 18-year-old drag artist named Salvia.
Seated in the audience during the show, the soft-spoken, Welsh teenager, now based in London, explained that Owens had been a fan of her Instagram account (@salvjiia), which she began nearly two years ago. It’s a mind-altering display of modified human forms, mostly Salvia herself, bearing a similar look to the tribe stalking down the Owens’ runway—often even further distorted by digital imagery software. Seeing that she often sets her scenes in domestic, everyday spaces (a backyard garden or poolside, for example), it becomes that much more facile to envision Owens own models existing in some contemporary realm of reality.
“Rick felt like my aesthetic would be very appropriate for his show; it was exciting to see my makeup brought to life on multiple models,” she said, adding that this was the first fashion show she’d ever collaborated on. Wrapped and bound in a pale cream skin-tight latex skirt and top that matched her skin’s pallor, with a beige medical brace-like neck collar and an extreme hairline that began behind her ears, it’s clear from Salvia’s own appearance that personal and artistic expression are very much one in the same.
Though her Instagram account is only two years old, Salvia started experimenting with drag and pushing the boundaries of self-expression through costume, makeup, and digital manipulation at the age of 14, pulling inspiration from a range of references, from ocean creatures, to pre-Raphaelite art, to futurism. When relying on facial prosthetics to help achieve her vision, she uses wax, silicone, and latex, all of which could be found at the makeup stations backstage at Owens’ show this season.
For his collection this season, Owens described a modern re-envisioning of the 70’s glam rock era, rooted in memories of Larry LeGaspi (who was responsible for KISS’ iconic look). Rather than tattoos, this new generation has replaced traditional forms of physical enhancement with a “body modification aesthetic,” one in which Salvia is “a leader,” he noted.
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The looks, executed by makeup artist Diane Kendal and her team, comprised three main designs: two of which required as much as four hours to complete, while the third featured a more natural aesthetic (if you’d call blackened-out eyes “natural.”) “He showed me things from my previous work that he’d liked, and then I took that and tried to design something new,” Salvia said of hers and Owens’ collaborative process. “The biggest idea that I had involved two growths going from the nose to the forehead that kind of separate the eyes and create a strange, futuristic-looking human—humans that have evolved.”
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Overall, Owens’ lineup of sharply-cut oversized blazers, platform boots, and leather jumpsuits carried a sense of nostalgia for a more liberated era, but also, given the hard-core beauty looks, one empowered by the right to self-definition in the boldest, most extreme sense. And while we live in an era of avatars, face-tuning apps, and other digital means of self-alteration, Owens’ mission to bring some of those illusions to actual life, was all the more powerful.