Stomp the Runway: The Choreographer Behind Rick Owens’ Astonishing Fashion Show

PicMonkey Collage_NobleWhen the lights darkened and the chattering of the audience ceased at the recent Rick Owens fashion preview in Paris, many of the seasoned fashionistas and reporters probably expected a frail-looking army of willowy 19-year-olds to come gliding down the runway. Instead, what they got were loud, stomping, thizz-facing steppers who made a different kind of statement rarely seen in the hallowed halls of high fashion.

The name of Owens’ latest line is Vicious, and the fashion show-meets-performance piece embodied just that. Real-bodied women, primarily of color, showed the minimalist ferocity of the new designs through exhilarating step-dance choreography to the beat of thudding music.

Stepping, a traditional dance seen mostly within black sororities and fraternities, had made its Paris Fashion Week debut. And Rick Owens couldn’t have found a more perfect way to showcase the wearability of his clothes than by having a team of steppers put them into powerful and graceful motion. Tossing their heads back, twisting their torsos, waving their arms and stamping their feet, the dancers/models made an impressive show of defiance.

Owens would later say backstage, after the show had left him and many in the audience in tears, that “It was such a fuck-you to conventional beauty.”


Though many covered the thrilling culmination of the dancers’ hard work and prowess, you’d be pressed to find the name of the person who orchestrated each stomp and step.

LeeAnet Noble, an acclaimed New York-based choreographer who’s been stepping since childhood, was charged with the task of auditioning and casting the 40 U.S.-based steppers and spending a grueling five months rehearsing with them.

“It was interesting using people that don’t fit the ilk you find on the runway,” says Noble. “Rick was looking for something that embodied Vicious, something that was intense and strong, so he decided to go with steppers instead of models. He believed they were the ones who could best bring it to life.”

Considering something like this hadn’t been done before, she was unsure of what the reaction would be. Many of the fashion show coordinators weren’t familiar with the tradition of stepping.

“Some of them would ask, ‘Why are they making those faces?'” recalls Noble.

But after the 11-minute performance that ended with all of the dancers linking arms and marching in unison, she was shocked to see tears in the audience: “That and the roar of the crowd as we walked off stage, it was on a different level I didn’t expect.”

Noble and her dancers had done something amazing, and it turned out to be a stomp heard ’round the fashion world. The bold movements of the dancers and the way Owens’ spartan, leather designs moved with them went viral, flooding Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and countless major media outlets.  Noble was overwhelmed.

“Seeing photos of my curvy self in the top Parisian newspapers next to photos of super models blew me away,” she says.

More than anything, Noble’s biggest sense of accomplishment comes from knowing what a life-changing experience this was for many in her dance team:

“A bunch of them had never been outside the country and simply couldn’t believe that a fashion designer wanted to fly them out to Paris to step. Until it was over, some of them didn’t realize the magnitude of what they did. It is something they will never forget.”

Photos of dancers courtesy of goMainstream via Creative Commons 2.0.;Photo of Noble by Marcos Decastro


bb1024300f3f36990f74fab87c359471Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.




  1. Toni Heart says:

    I loved the attitudes given off in the presentation. Sometimes you have to identify more of what you are than of what you seek to find in others. Or rather what you posses already!

  2. This was absolutely the most awesome, fantastic modeling show ever… Real woman no super skinny tall not no real people … I loved it this is what it should really be about fashion for reality, for real people in this pretending to be world of fashion. This was perfect…

  3. mschelley says:

    I really liked the idea behind it – using real women, not models; the stepping, etc. and the girls were awesomely kickass. But I was meh about the actual clothing.

  4. Keisha Thomas says:

    Headshot Photo Credit: Marcos Decastro

  5. Lauretta Malloy Noble says:

    Marcos Decastro: Headshot of LeeAnet photo credit

  6. Finally, someone in a fashion show that looks like a human, walks like they are actually touching the ground, and moves like humans actually move when they wear clothes. And, to make it even better, these women dance amazingly.

  7. Sandra Jelnicky says:

    Whew! Shades of the video “Whale Rider” !! I am definitely going to view that video again. Noble captured the organic power of WOMAN beautifully; and set it in a strong primal frame. I’ll never forget it. Thank you LeeAnet Noble.

  8. greatways says:

    Funny for a womens mag to have a pic on its front blog with a woman with er head sewn off.

  9. Jane Sunshine says:

    It reminded me of the Maori warrior dances but these are warrior women. What a performance! Not what the audience expected at all.

  10. Carol Favorita says:

    Fierce…Beautiful…Powerful…..Truly Feminine and Absolutely Subversive

  11. Jacqueline says:

    Oh My God, Yes! This story, this show, so beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes. For so long in my life I had been called ugly. I’m not thick like those beautiful women; I am slender. Still, this show touched my heart that a designer chose to have real true women on the runway to display another form of beauty.

    It’s just like when I was growing up watching television and I didn’t see any faces like mine. Until I saw Janet Jackson as a little girl. I called her my sister as I beamed watching her and her brother perform on their very own show. I was so happy to see another little girl that looked like me. My color is that of Halle Berry and Rihanna, still someone took the time to express that these women are beautiful and fierce and should be seen. I truly hope other designers take more chances like this and show real Asian women only.

  12. T.C.Ricoy says:

    Fashion that brings you to tears. At first glacnce, I was doubtful. As an African American woman with a typical American body, I can’t deny that watching the Owens fashion show steppers stirred something in me. For once, my love of the art of fashion was not at odds with the message of the industry. I hadn’t realized how willfully blind I had become, often accepting the fashion industry’s trivialization of consumers for a gander at georgeous clothes being worn by unattainable beauties. My brain skipped when I saw some of the African dance inspired steps being offered to an audience dotted with slim, white, women dressed to the nines. I was enthralled but immediately self-conscience. Right away I wanted to know, what was the audience thinking? Were they true fashionistas, consumed by the art of self expression through dress or were they simply critics, turned off by the extraordinary solid bodied, aggressive, ethnic vibe? I found myself getting a little defensive. That’s what years of media intake telling you what beauty is and what is not does to a woman’s psyche. It makes you have to defend your definition of beauty. For a moment in time I could hang up my boxing glove and ‘I heart fashion’ foam finger and relax, and just watch a show: raw beauty, clothes, and talent. Thank you Rick Owens.

  13. Vivien Potter says:

    Perfect. Thank you for inspiring revolution. Emotionally charged demonstration of real.

  14. karen Brown says:

    Powerful women showing their bodies in motion, moving together, co-operating, showing their strength – that’s a welcome change .Ric Owens has risen in my estimation but I wonder if his clothes will still only been seen on size 0 movie stars and the wives of billionaires.

  15. Speechless. Finally.

  16. A fierce and powerful army of dance and fashion. Loved it!

  17. That was such an awesome show! I’d say the best I’ve ever seen, ever, ever! Thanks so much for telling us more about the choreographer :-). She made fashion worth watching.

  18. sheri Alexander says:

    What and incredibly empowering idea and fashion show! Rick Owens deserves all the praise and sales this amazing show brings him. And the step dancers and their choreographer, LeeAnet Noble deserve all the fame and acknowledgment that comes their way. The fierce vibe and tough fashion worked for me. Makes me want to get creative, and show something of my inner self on the street besides a boring T-shirt and shorts. I am truly inspired! Surely I’ve got something I can cobble together to give myself some oomph like these beautiful women gave us? Well, sadly, I have nothing in my closet that will touch the way-cool outfits Mr. Owens blessed these dancers solid bodies with, but I’ll figure something out, inside and backwards, whatever it takes, some kind of peek of fierceness is happening on my body today. Big thanks and much admiration to Owens and his Steppers!!

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