Rick Owens spends his summers in Venice, from May to October. He is now there, waiting for the delivery of breakfast: coffee, croissants, eggs and avocado on toast. ‘One of the more civilized things you can do is grab a sofa bed and hot coffee on the beach in the morning. I have my toes in the sand and it’s a sparkling day, ‘he says.
This is not a scene where you would expect a stylist who has been described as “the lord of darkness” to appear. But Owens has always been on the border between the grotesque and the beautiful.
“I know everyone assumes I’m very dramatic and dystopian,” he says. ‘And I guess when I do shows, this is the case. But I live a very quiet and kind life. ‘ Owens says he prefers to travel as little as possible. When he does, he never takes private planes. So the airport has become a bit of a problem, especially the pre-flight stroll through duty free shopping. “I find it so jarring and unpleasant,” he says. ‘I started referring to this as an “airport aesthetic” because you have to go through those duty free shops. It’s this super-polished, super-classic, super-stiff and cramped kind of environment that promotes jet-set aspirations and conspicuous consumption. ‘
Her next SS23 women’s show in Paris will be a reaction to that, she explains. “I want something raw, something raw. I’ve gotten a little too glam recently, which people have really responded well to. I’ve always believed in glamor. But the world has gotten a little too polished for me recently. We live in a world of airbrushed selfies. ‘
Although Owens uses social media himself, it’s clear that mainstream influencer culture doesn’t like it. Although, when I push him on the matter, he says it’s “funny and ironic”. “The” online “style appears to me as a kind of bag to pull each label together and then call it your look,” he says. “But it all seems the same to me: all combinations of designer clothes end up stabilizing.” From a man who once said, ‘Working out is modern couture. Buy fewer clothes and hit the gym instead, Owens’ ethics couldn’t be further from Instagram #OOTD snaps and YouTube unboxing videos.
Unsurprisingly, Owens’ muses have always been what society would consider unconventional in appearance, rooted in the aesthetics of the subculture. Originally from California, he spent his formative years in the Los Angeles punk scene. After studying art, followed by pattern cutting and draping at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, he founded his own label in 1994 before moving to Paris almost 10 years later with his life and work partner, Michèle Lamy, with who has been married ever since. 2006. Their company, Owenscorp, is the umbrella under which the uncompromising world they create hides.
Owens has dressed the likes of Kanye West, designed Brutalist furniture, published six books, set up exhibitions and a museum retrospective of his work. Rick Owens’ core collections (there are four a year, two for women and two for men) are among the most revered each season. Not only for the exquisite dresses, but also for the “bombastic” shows – as the designer says – that accompany them. Previous runways included models that wore each other as backpacks, step teams performing full dance routines instead of a walk, naked penises peeking from the hems, and most recently in the case of the SS23 men’s show, a apocalyptic set with burning globes dropped by cranes into the fountain basin of the Palais de Tokyo.
Her poker-like straight hair (naturally curly and white) is religiously dyed jet black – “my goal since childhood was apparently to have hair like Cher,” she once said. But what does Owens think of subcultures in the TikTok era, and in particular those emerging from London? ‘I love the guys who do Kaos London. It’s an underground techno club and collective. However Chadd, who goes by the name Dahc Dermur – well, I just call him Chadd but I guess Chadd is too pedantic for him – used to work for me 20 years ago in my New York store. Then he moved to the UK and built a community around him with Kaos. It is one of the few subcultures I have seen in recent times. But maybe I don’t look around enough. ‘ Owens also references Gen Z Welsh drag artist Salvia and an artist duo called Fecal Matter as two other inspirations (I’ll leave you to Google them at your leisure). ‘When I see those guys go further and start distorting their bodies and working with prosthetics and plastic surgery, it’s kind of interesting to me. It’s kind of a new version of the tattoo. I mean, tattooing was once transgressive and now it’s just the most mundane and squalid thing. ‘
I ask Owens about the ES cover star Julia Fox he met while dating Kanye West. “Only after meeting her did I discover her photographic work of her,” she says. ‘She is really impressive. A photographer I have been working with for many years, Danielle Levitt, showed it to me. I was wondering if there was a backlash after the Kanye thing, “he says thoughtfully. ‘Despite all the progress we’ve made, the way women are treated and the way they are thrown away, as with the whole thing. by Amber Heard … He was seen as such a hero and she was such an evil. It was shocking. The world can be such a vicious and primitive place. “
“I think London is so beautiful, though,” continues Owens, changing the subject to describe his love for The Beaumont hotel, his favorite accommodation in the city (he likes staying in the Antony Gormley suite). “It overlooks this strange little garden across from Selfridges,” he says, referring to Brown Hart Gardens. Trust him to notice this inconspicuous concrete spot. Indeed, first built in 1889, Brown Hart Gardens were considered an “instant disaster” for attracting “messy boys” and “wormy women”. In a vicious, largely airbrushed world like Facetune on an unflattering selfie, grabbing a leaf from Rick Owens’ book, Michèle Lamy, their messy boys and their wormy women wouldn’t be a bad idea.