Confessions of a Rick Owens Stepper, Shauntele Dishes on Her Experience
Rick Owens' Spring 2014 RTW fashion show caused quite a stir in Paris. Instead of super thin models showcasing the high-end designer’s apparel, he opted for shapely brown models with angry faces. The steppers were comprised of a few dance teams, including Soul Steps, who began practicing for the big September performance in May. To give us a better idea of how this went down we caught up with Shauntele, who was a stepper in the show with large dreams of one day making it big with her own fashion line.
Watch the performance below and jump the page to hear Shauntele’s story.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Shauntele
How did you find out you were stepping in the show? What was your reaction?
Maxine Lyle, the founder of Soul Steps recruited me to participate knowing that being a fashion designer of my own label, Shauntele, it would be a great chance to enjoy the industry from a different perspective. At first I couldn't believe a designer would put us on the Paris fashion stage but knowing Maxine's history and the way she has always created unique opportunities to share the art of step I had no doubt that whatever the outcome was, it was going to be something worthwhile and special. I was also secretly excited to also see how my own designs would fit in with the Parisian street style once we arrived.
When did the team begin practicing?
We began practicing in May to refine our routines and develop an understanding about Rick Owens' collection and the overarching theme behind the future show.
Those faces we’re pretty interesting. How did you maintain that look throughout the performance?
Admittedly, uniting the choreography with intensity and maintaining a fierce look was tricky, but towards the middle of the summer it began to click and I considered "the grit" as just another part of the choreography. Just like every other move it was meant to be executed with purpose and with intention.
Tell us a bit about the hair and makeup for the show?
Rick wanted the look to be natural and authentic. I thought this was another interesting component of his vision. In his goal to present another more inclusive definition of beauty he gave instructions to leave our makeup extremely light and natural. No mascara, no eyeliner, no lipstick , no blush. Just a touch of foundation and lip balm. On a regular basis I would never feel so comfortable being so bare in a fashion atmosphere but there I was in front of the industry elite, truly embracing my natural beauty with confidence and pride.
For me, lead hairstylist Luigi Mureni and his team executed a look called the Dandelion. It was blown out and teased to create a soft, extremely lightweight bob that responded to movement just as a dandelion responds to the wind.
What was your most memorable moment from the performance?
I loved the moments where we were facing the crowd. To see the reactions and hear the shouts of encouragement and appreciation was a great feeling. It was further proof that the hard work we put in was not in vain and the effect was not lost on the audience.
What was the chemistry like between the steppers?
Whenever you bring a large number of people together there is an initial social dance that takes place. You move around in cautious steps to feel each other out, quickly recognizing that some personalities are larger than others and that some are more docile, sensitive and focused. One of the moments that brought us closer together was the "lock up" performed at the very end of the routine. In this formation we were linked together and holding onto the woman in front of us with great force so that no movement could break the chain. This physical closeness creates an emotional connection as well.
Some critics are saying the performance was inappropriate. In fact, many are saying Rick wanted Blacks to step in his fashion show, but didn’t want many black models. What are your thoughts on that?
Rick Owens NEVER stated that "he wanted Blacks to step in his fashion show, but didn’t want any black models." To Rick we were American steppers. As a matter of fact there were other non-black troupes considered for the show as well. Rick Owens' admiration stemmed from a genuine appreciation of the art of step, not the race of those who perform it. That is not to say we should ignore the fact the it was an indelible moment in fashion history to have models like us represented on the runway. From the mostly positive response to our performance I am optimistic that we as people of color have begun to release ourselves from the heavy self criticism that stunts our own self expression. Sometimes we are simply fighting imagined stereotypes that may not truly exist within the minds of others. The crabs can have that barrel. As a black woman I am many things from feminine to fierce, from jovial to angry. Can we give our fellow humans the chance to understand us before we begin underestimating their ability to relate and appreciate our cultural uniqueness?