Rick Owens: Fashion’s Ultimate Antagonist

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Written by Nick Remsen, CNN

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Parisian designer Rick Owens has been called a lot during his long career. An anti-hero, a goth, the “prince of darkness” of fashion. It was labeled as such because of its penchant for largely black, gray, and icy artwork, its deployment of pentagram patterns on underwear or elk antlers on furniture, and an overall aesthetic that is – and it would be. okay with that – – furiously anti-establishment.

“I understand, I mean it’s easy to categorize someone. I sum it up so quickly. I guess being called goth isn’t the worst thing,” he said during ‘an interview at the top of the Palais de Tokyo, two days before the unveiling of its spring-summer 2022 collection at Paris Fashion Week. “It’s like this: there’s Disney World, where you can go and get something very clean and that negates the ailments and horrors that really exist in life. And there’s the non-Disney World, where you will find someone like me, who recognizes and tries to figure out how to accept these things and how to deal with these things. When you recognize it, when you face the mortality, when you face the threat, then, yes, it is. is dark compared to Disney. I agree with that. “

Michelle Lamy and Rick Owens attend the Gareth Pugh show as part of Paris Fashion Week 2014. Credit: Michel Dufour / WireImage / Getty Images

Owens, who is half American and half Mexican (his mother is from Puebla, a few hours from Mexico City), was born and raised in Porterville, California, before launching his namesake line in Los Angeles in 1994. He moved to Paris in 2003 with his partner Michèle Lamy, and now lives between the French capital and Venice, the Italian Lido, where he runs a penthouse that overlooks the sea (and where, during the Covid-19 pandemic, he put staged and filmed intimate parades; Thursday’s Parisian parade marked its return to the city after a year and a half).
His label, which remains majority owned by him and Lamy, is a success story – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue per year, thanks to its main collection, distribution lines, furniture collection, partnerships of brands and more. . He has received numerous accolades, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and is an industry darling although he remains, for many, a bit of a dark horse. He’s also increasingly become a celebrity favorite, beloved by stars such as Lil Uzi Vert, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Timothée Chalamet, who layered Rick Owens in his recent Met Gala look.

People want to imagine that everything will be fine and that we have everything under control.

Rick owens

Above all, Owens, who turns 60 in November, is perhaps one of the less filtered designers working today – this is a rare trait, especially when many luxury brands go through the processes of corporate approval and heavily supervised safety shutdowns. His honesty is refreshing: “I like elation, but there has always been anger. I grew up in such a conservative and critical city, and it filled me with rage, ”says Owens. “I’m still operating on this rage. It’s my revenge. I’m still vengeful. I’m still a vengeful Scorpion.”

During Paris Fashion Week in 2019, Owens' show at the Palais de Tokyo harmoniously mingled with a chance on-site exhibition by sculptor Thomas Houseago.

During Paris Fashion Week in 2019, Owens’ show at the Palais de Tokyo harmoniously mingled with a chance on-site exhibition by sculptor Thomas Houseago. Credit: Victor Virgile / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images

Owens’ product is ultra-luxurious, but it doesn’t stop at the limits of stereotypical, mass-peddled opulence. Puffy leathers, exotic hides, ultra-fine cashmere knits, faded denim and a bit of rough glamor, as with injections of sequins or leaves, all played a role in defining its singular vernacular design. Her shapes and silhouettes are oversized, sticky, languid and, frankly, captivating. Everything freezes to form in tandem something futuristic and deeply primal. Neanderthal to extraterrestrial, and yet oddly well adapted to the modern era.

“What I always try to do is bring fatherhood to my work,” he says. “The point is, all my life I’ve tried to present something that is an alternative to a very strict aesthetic that we see in this world. We’re supposed to buy into it, but I’m trying to blur the lines. in a militant way, but in a way that says, “I am proposing this as an alternative to the standards that you are used to. I think with confidence and a certain dose of flair and daring, we have established our own. type of beauty. Smarter beauty. “

Owens’ balanced approach – that fashion can thrive as a tug-of-war between sadness and joy – is also reflected in his track record of controversy and truly brilliant bangs.

American sorority step teams were hired by Owens in 2013 to model his Spring / Summer 2014 collection.

American sorority step teams were hired by Owens in 2013 to model his Spring / Summer 2014 collection. Credit: Parade / Getty Images

As for the first, in June 2015, a model walking in an Owens show held up a sign that read “Please kill Angela Merkel, not”. There was speculation as to whether this was internal work, a heavy blow to advertise (Owens denies any prior knowledge).

With the latter, there are two strengths in particular. One was in September 2013, when Owens hired step teams from American sororities instead of traditional models to showcase his Spring / Summer 2014 collection. The show caused a stir and, it should be noted, it turned out to be produced years before the fashion industry was pushing system-wide for greater racial diversity and greater size inclusion.

The new Rick Owens Spring / Summer 2022 collection debuted on September 30 at Paris Fashion Week 2021.

The new Rick Owens Spring / Summer 2022 collection debuted on September 30 at Paris Fashion Week 2021. Credit: Estrop / Getty

The other involves another parade, this time in 2019. Owens is used to presenting at the Palais de Tokyo, and the large size of the location regularly requires a creative filling of the space.

That summer there was an on-site exhibition of the work of artist and sculptor Thomas Houseago. One of these pieces was installed right in the middle of Owens’ set. The designer extrapolated the idea and imported clay from Houseago’s studio in Los Angeles, mixing it with Parisian mud and including it in the staging. More importantly, it was not wasted: “This is clay that came from Los Angeles that was in a Rick Owens show that ended up in the Louvre, used by students in their own creativity.” , explains Owens. “And I loved it. I thought it was a great solution for [the excesses of runway shows.]”

A line of models walks the runway for the Rick Owens show at Paris Fashion Week 2021.

A line of models walks the runway for the Rick Owens show at Paris Fashion Week 2021. Credit: Estrop / Getty

Spring / Summer 2022, titled “Fogachine,” featured an array of Owens signatures; Most notable looks included an elongated, dip-dyed sheer top over a barely visible bodysuit and splint-shaped python boots, as well as a puffy, almost kaftan-like tulle dress embroidered with raven feathers. iridescent. Overall, the collection resonated with confidence and a sort of elegant yet menacing energy; it was a loaded homecoming, in a way, but Owens doesn’t attribute too many specific emotions to his work.

Plus, as always, he struggles with the biggest questions: “[With shows coming back after the pandemic], everyone is going to want to flex. Everyone is going to want to show that they are stronger than ever, that they are more powerful than ever. It’s a bit awful, but I understand. So that’s where I’m headed right now. I think, no one wants to see the humility. No one wants to see a humble lesson. People want to see that we are back to full power. “Then, smiling mischievously, he concludes,” People want to imagine that everything is going to be okay, and that we have everything under control. ”

Top image: Rick Owens for his Menswear Fall / Winter 2020-2021 show at Paris Fashion Week 2020.

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