Rick Owens – Amazing DesignersSeptember 19, 2017
Rick Owens (born 1962) is one of America’s more daring designers.
Design wise, he’s into the shredded-luxe look – laddered fine gauge cashmere, frayed silk chiffon in black, grey, ecru. Jersey is draped around the body and his signature garments are fitted washed leather jackets, droopy shorts or tight skinny jeans worn with oversized trainers.
He himself looks like a black-haired Iggy Pop. He’s rather battered looking, like his clothes, but with a fine magnetism like the singer. The designer, who is married to a woman, his muse and collaborator Michèle Lamy, once said he’d like to sleep with Iggy.
But it wasn’t this statement that shocked the fashion world, or rather, this was one of his throwaway shock moments. A rather more lasting impression was given by his outfits with cutouts for the penis which came down the catwalk in 2015, by his appearance in a video made with drag queen provocateur Christeene in which he fucks her with his long hair and by his wax portrait, made by Madame Tussaud’s team, hanging from a ceiling and pissing on a mirrored floor. It was shown at the Pitti Immagine fashion fair in Italy in 2006.
Rick Owens – a cultured designer
However, this man, for all his shock jock actions and rock star appearance is no lightweight joker. I would venture that the peek a boo clothes for men were a commentary on the constant exposure of women’s bodies in fashion, and the man spouts fountains of cultural references constantly – in any given interview he mentions poets, design movements, obscure fashion designers and little known artists as his sources of reference.
Feminists sat up and took approving notice of the designer in 2014 when instead of showing his work on conventional models he showed his collection on a mostly black American dance team of all different body sizes called a step team, who shouted and stamped their way through a fierce dance routine. The next year, he upped the ante with a bizarre seeming show where models carried other models on their bodies, upside-down and strapped to their backs and fronts.
But it wasn’t about subjugating women or objectifying them – literally turning them into an object like a backpack. Instead, “I see that focussed vision being more about nourishment, sisterhood/motherhood and regeneration; women raising women, women becoming women, and women supporting women – a world of women I know little about and can only attempt to amuse in my own small way…Straps can be about restraint but here they are all about support and cradling. Straps here become loving ribbons.”
The Reactionary Designer
But Rick Owens has always been a bit different, a bit wild and out to surprise. His father, he says, was a conservative Catholic racist, homophobic bigot, and everything he did was a reaction to that. He didn’t fit in at school, and it didn’t help that there was no TV in the house, so he was a ferocious and wide-ranging reader and listened to a lot of classical music. The young Rick Owens was very inspired by the tales of dissipated Romatic poets, living fast, dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse – plus a memorable body of work.
Rather like Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, he actively set out to chase this dream and live like Baudelaire, Tennessee Williams and “Just this whole idea that a candle that burns at both ends might burn shorter, but it burns brighter. Originally I was going to be like Charles James. I was going to make beautiful things and live in glamorous squalor on Hollywood Boulevard and die the hero for having stuck to my vision and not compromised.”
Although originally this vision was neither glamorous nor original. Leaving his small town home, he went to LA to study fashion design before dropping out and subsequently training at a technical college. Here he learned to pattern cut and sew – it’s something many designers don’t actually know how to do. This lead, by the Nineties, to a career in making designer knock offs for the fashion forgery industry.
But Rick Owens was also hanging out at decadent LA nightspots, including Café Des Artistes, owned by Michèle Lamy. He began to dress her as well as people on the scene like Courtney Love. They caught on and he opened his first store in 1994 off Hollywood Boulevard.
He called his look “glunge” – glamour-grunge (surely a contradiction in terms?) and made his clothes at home, driving around to retailers to sell them himself. But soon he didn’t have to – buyers like Joan Burstein of Brown’s Focus in London snapped them up, as well as Parisian and Hong Kong boutiques known for their talent at spotting the pioneers of fashion. Charles Gallay, a buyer from LA paid half up front for his first collection, enabling him to produce it.
Stylists also picked up on his work, and photographer Corinne Day shot Kate Moss in Rick Owens for French Vogue in 2002. Anna Wintour of American Vogue spotted it, and sponsored his first New York catwalk collection.
In 2003 he moved to Paris with Michèle, and his catwalk shows have been held there since then. He bought a five story mansion which was the former Presidential offices, and has lived and worked there ever since. He also has a flat in Venice, Italy.
Having a huge, empty house to furnish and decorate inspired the designer. He and Michèle created the furniture himself – he conceptualises and she actualises. The designer always speaks with a lot of admiration for his wife, whilst admitting they have totally different styles of working and sometimes get into big arguments about the process. The furniture, which isn’t what you’d call comfortable, made as it is from raw plywood, marble, and moose antlers became a side line in 2005.
“We had an empty house and the creation of furniture became like a wonderful hobby for us as a couple. It’s our way of playing together, and it’s a constant conversation. We didn’t need a furniture business, but it became something we enjoyed, and eventually it developed a life of its own. If you were able to customize everything around your house, you would, even something mundane like a doorknob. That’s where we are; we want to customize everything about the way we live.”
Rick Owens and his Furniture Design
Rick Owens won the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award in 2007, Fashion Group International Rule Breaker Award in 2007, and the CFDA Perry Ellis Emerging Talent Award in 2002.
He also has an ongoing trainer collaboration with Adidas.