Rick Owens is fashion’s unapologetically outspoken opponent.

Rick Owens is fashion’s unapologetically outspoken opponent.

Rick Owens, a Paris-based designer, has been dubbed many things over his lengthy career. A goth, an antihero, fashion’s “prince of darkness.” He’s been labeled as such because of his propensity for a primarily noir, grey, and ice-hued output, his usage of pentagram symbols on knickers or elk antlers on furniture, and an overall style that is rapturously anti-establishment, as he’d agree.

I understand, I mean, it’s simple to categorize someone. I, too, summarise rapidly. “I suppose being labeled as a goth isn’t the worst thing,” he adds during a sit-down interview atop the Palais de Tokyo, two days before unveiling his Spring-Summer 2022 collection at Paris Fashion Week. It’s like this: there’s Disney World, where you can go to find something very neat that denies the problems and horrors that are found in real life And then there’s the non-Disney World, where you’ll find people like myself, who recognize and try to figure out how to accept and handle those things. When you recognize it, when you deal with death, when you deal with peril, then, yes, it’s gloomy compared to what you’re used to.

Rick Owens was born and reared in Porterville, California, before founding his eponymous label in Los Angeles in 1994. He is half-American and half-Mexican (his mother is from Puebla, only a few hours outside of Mexico City). He moved to Paris with his partner Michèle Lamy in 2003 and now divides his time between the French capital and Venice, Italy’s Lido, where he maintains a penthouse flat with a sea view (and where, during the Covid-19 epidemic, he organized and shot private runway presentations; Thursday’s Paris catwalk marked his return to the city after a two-year absence).

His label, which he and Lamy still hold in the majority, is a success story, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in sales every year owing to his main collection, diffusion lines, furniture collection, brand alliances, and other initiatives. He has earned various honors, including the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and is an industry favorite despite being a bit of a dark horse to many. He’s also become a celebrity favorite, with fans including Lil Uzi Vert, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Timothée Chalamet, who wore Rick Owens to the Met Gala.

Above all, Rick Owens, who turns 60 in November, maybe one of the most unfiltered designers working today – a unique quality in a world where many luxury firms are subject to rigorously policed corporate clearance processes and safety checks. His candor is refreshing: “I enjoy bombast, but there has always been anger.” “I grew up in such a conservative, judgy town, and it filled me with rage,” Owens adds. “I’m still riding that wrath. This is my retaliation. I’m still out for vengeance. I’m still a vindictive Scorpio.

Rick Owens’ product is ultra-luxurious, although it deviates from traditional and mass-marketed extravagance. Blistered leathers, exotic skins, tape-thin cashmere knits, overwashed denim, and a touch of roughened glamour, such as sequins or foil injections, have all contributed to his own design lexicon. His forms and proportions are oversized, clinging, languid, and, quite frankly, seductive. It all comes together to make something both futuristic and extremely primordial. From Neanderthal to extraterrestrial, and yet surprisingly well-suited to our times.

Regarding the former, a model appearing in an Owens show in June 2015 wore a poster that said “Please Kill Angela Merkel Not.” There was significant conjecture that it was an inside job, a violent publicity stunt (Owens denies any previous knowledge of it).

There are two notable examples of the latter. One goes back to September 2013, when Owens presented his Spring-Summer 2014 collection using step teams from American sororities rather than typical models. The show was a hit, and it’s worth noting that it took place years before the fashion industry’s systemic drive for greater ethnic diversity and size inclusion.

Thomas Houseago, an artist and sculptor, had an on-site display that summer. One such installation was smack dab in the heart of Owens’ act. The designer expanded on the concept by importing clay from Houseago’s Los Angeles workshop, mixing it with Parisian dirt, and incorporating it into the staging. Most significantly, it didn’t go to waste: “It’s clay that came from Los Angeles that was in a Rick Owens show that ended up at the Louvre, being used by students in their own creativity,” Owens adds. “And I adored that. That seemed like a fantastic remedy to [the excesses of runway displays.]”

The ‘Fogachine’ collection for Spring-Summer 2022 featured an assortment of Owens hallmarks, including a dip-dyed extended transparent top over a barely-there body suit and splint-like python boots, as well as a billowing, almost caftan-like, tulle dress adorned with iridescent raven feathers. Overall, the collection rang with confidence and elegant-yet-dangerous energy; it felt like a charged-up homecoming, but Rick Owens doesn’t ascribe too many specific feelings to his work.

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