Interview By Connie Wang
Portrait By Owenscorp
The last person I saw wearing a Rick Owens leather jacket was standing in the middle of Miami’s Lincoln Road, scratching her platinum-blond hair with one long acrylic nail. She had paired one of Rick’s Palais Royale pieces with thigh-high stilettos, a sequined snakeskin minidress, and a Marlboro 100 that rained ash all over the jacket’s fur collar. It was ridiculous, it was beautiful, and it seemed to me a pretty good definition of modern luxury (because what’s more luxurious than not giving a shit about ruining your $5,000 jacket?). I’m certain Rick Owens would agree.
Rick Owens’s brand aesthetic is at once subversive and conservative—it’s the uniform-de-forte of attractive street urchins, but also an elite sartorial badge of honor for the Parisian editorial circlet. Despite Owens’s refusal to advertise or publicize, his whole grunge-glamour deal is like the dim hum of a high-wattage fly zapper—attracting and electrifying those who are into cloaking themselves in a bit of timeless drama and those who just want to own a really fucking nice jacket.
Mr. Owens recently spoke with Vice about his cut-and-cured body, his Legolas-goes-goth hair, and what it means to be a selfish cunt.
Vice: Most important question first. You are fantastically ripped. I mean, you’re shredded. Cut. Sculptural. What’s the deal?
Rick Owens: I’m not really into clothes. I wear one outfit like a uniform, and I have for years. Black sweatpants, black baggy shorts over them, a black or white cotton t-shirt, and a black cashmere t-shirt over that. I couldn’t imagine having to change outfits every day or having to change for the gym.
You wear the same thing to the gym too?
This outfit takes me to the gym, to work in the studio, and then to dinner with a mink coat over it.
So for you it’s more about working on your physique than worrying about what to wear?
Changing your body is so much more hardcore. The extreme sensation of working out has replaced the mosh pits of my earlier years and the sex clubs for years after that. It’s a great combo of discipline, joyous release, meditation, and vanity. Music never sounded as good as it does now, pounding through those earbud headphones into the pit of my stomach as I feel my muscles swell.
Very poetic! Last season it was sexy nuns. Two seasons ago it was straight architecture. Four past? Furry cavemen. Did you lift inspiration from anywhere in particular for your Fall 2009 collection?
I’m starting with the word “crust” and looking at more extreme texture.
Crust in terms of?
Crust being a protective layer, which made me think of vulnerability. Not sure what I’m going to do with that yet. To tell the truth, it’s usually afterward, when it’s done, that I can analyze where it came from. Until then, I try not to think too much.
You seem pretty inspired by animals and their features, and you use lots of animal materials in your collections.
I suppose there’s a primal association that appeals to me, especially when it’s transformed and refined into something elegant. I like transformation.
As for your own hair, have you ever thought about cutting it? I mean, not that I want you to. Just asking. Please don’t cut it.
I doubt I ever will. I’ll be fine with a long cobweb wreath when the time comes.
If you could make a garment out of any material, what would it be? Forget about all international furrier and leather regulations. Forget about physical implausibility and commodity rarity too.
Well, there’s a guy I’m working with on some horn elements for my next collection. He does stuff like customized carved-bone door handles for vintage car interiors. He has a pile of ivory tusks in his workshop that I’m awfully tempted to use for furniture, because I do see furniture as an extension of clothes. And I love swansdown…
I guess that living in Paris rather than Los Angeles has influenced how you think about design, right?
Sure. It raised the bar. There’s a place here for chic that borders on the perverse. But I think I prefer New York style in general. There’s a little more severity there, to my eye. I probably have a city designed by Le Corbusier and Luigi Moretti in my head most of the time, though.
If your fashion aesthetic were a noise, what would it be?
The low hum of a heavy industrial motor.
That’s a perfect answer. If you had the chance to completely update one long-established fashion house, which would it be?
Honestly, Revillon was my only temptation.
And you’ve already done that.
I would never be the slightest bit interested again. I’m not saying that bitterly, I had a lovely time with Revillon. But why would I want to put all that effort into someone else’s company when I can put it into my own?
You’ve said that you’re a pragmatic designer and that you’d rather see your clothes in stores than out on the runway. If that’s the case, why are you so quiet on the advertising front?
Advertising pulls you more deeply into the fashion system than I’m willing to go. I have enough, and my business is growing at a pace that’s gradual enough to be safe, yet fast enough to be motivating. And advertising’s another job, like runway shows. Once you start, you need to be ready to do it forever. That being said, though, I never thought I’d be doing runway shows.
It’s been a long time coming now, but the fashion world has finally caught up to the luxuriously louche and dramatic look that you pioneered. We’re seeing moms in the Midwest sliding into your leather jackets and the cool chicks at school shelling out for a pair of your boots instead of the standard Louboutins. From a guy who’s been doing the beautifully dark and broody thing for so long, why do you think you’re so relevant nowadays?
When I started out, I resented the fact that dramatic or radical fashion was confined to the runway or to special occasions. I wanted to corrupt conformity from within by translating extreme silhouettes into a gentle gray that could quietly be part of every day. I do see hints of that happening around, but find it hard to believe that it worked. I think it was going to happen anyway, but maybe I did help.
What was Rick Owens the kid like?
Rick the kid was a soft sissy.
What about Rick Owens as a teenager?
Rick the teenager wanted desperately to appear dissolute.
And Rick Owens the geriatric? How will that be?
Rick the geriatric will be dissolute.
I’ve got to ask you about your heels. Are they comfortable? I’ve got sneaker-nerd friends who go crazy over your high-tops and are shocked to discover that you make man heels.
Uh, did they ever hear “Detroit Rock City” by Kiss?
Your life in LA seemed like a bit of a dingy fairy tale full of fantastical characters and drugs and booze. Today, you’re ostensibly still living what we plebes see as kind of a fairy tale. There’s the five-story mansion on the Place du Palais-Bourbon and the sculpture of yourself pissing fake urine. What’s the biggest difference between the LA version of the Rick Owens mythology and the Paris version?
Probably not much. It’s still a triangle of gym, working at home, and dinner down the street. All the old faces come through Paris sooner or later, and other than that I’m on the road a lot more than I used to be.
Last questions: What’s your biggest fault?
I’m a selfish cunt.
And your biggest virtue?
Knowing I’m a selfish cunt.