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RICK OWENS — MONUMENTAL FASHION – Paris-LA
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RICK OWENS — MONUMENTAL FASHION

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MONUMENTAL FASHION—

Rick Owens in conversation with Dorothée Perret

Illustrations by Aurore de La Morinerie.

 

 

COUTURE IS FURNITURE

Dorothée Perret

This issue of PARIS LA focuses on the creative dynamic that lies between art and fashion. What is your position? And would you say that art and fashion are opposed, complementary, or necessary to each other?

 

Rick Owens

I went to art school to be a painter, but was too intimidated by having to live with what I thought was the intellectual rigor of an artist, so I became a fashion designer instead. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become suspicious of the gambling and betting and status elements I see in the art world, even though I’m fascinated by it. But maybe that’s just me being pompously judgmental.

Sometimes I wonder if fashion has overtaken art in speaking to people’s gut—fashion has gotten so competitive and fast, it’s got to really hit you in the face one way or another right this moment. And I love timeless values, but I also don’t dismiss small shifts of the moment.

I guess I just didn’t have the nerve to expect a living from something I present as an idea—I have to camouflage whatever I propose with functionality. I haven’t figured out if that’s low self-esteem, or just pedantic pragmatism.

Dorothée

To me, fashion is the organized action of making goods by people under a hierarchy. Art, on the other hand, is the projection of the abstract vision of a single person. How do you work in the studio? Are there a lot of people with you, or are you solo?

Rick

I’m pretty solo. I don’t have the patience with other people’s creative expressions in my space. I have enough trouble having my own ideas executed and can get distracted by other people’s energies. This is something I learned about myself awhile ago, and I’m not proud of it, but for better or worse I accepted that I get my best results as a dictator.

Dorothée

Designing furniture—is it like developing a language outside of fashion, or do you see it as an extension of your work in fashion?

Rick

I like the idea of making the most mundane everyday things as quietly magical as possible. From T-shirts to toilets.

Dorothée

You once said that you don’t believe in 5000 hours of work in an embroidered gala dress. But it seems that you believe in that kind of work for a piece of furniture. Is it a commentary on the utility of couture versus furniture?

Rick

I was being a bit snotty and glib, but if I think of couture as something laboriously made for someone to borrow and wear at a special event, it seems a bit much. But again, if I think of it as a celebration of craft and an exercise in rigor and the aspirational pursuit of the exquisite, it seems like a pretty good idea.

Dorothée

I think you said that “couture is furniture.” Does it mean that for you, furniture has replaced couture? Or, structurally, couture is like furniture?

Rick

I don’t think furniture has replaced couture in general, nor do I think it should. But my own furniture is my personal equivalent of couture.

Dorothée

How do you see the future of your design? I mean what will come after in the creative process, once you’ve seen all the possibilities in furniture?

Rick

I’m counting on the possibilities being endless. I suppose architecture would be the next step, but I don’t think I could handle the slower pace.

Dorothée

Could it be that one day you create pieces of work with no proper function?

Rick

I’m keeping an open mind. What stops me is the sentimentality in physically creating something and putting it on a pedestal to admire, and then gradually forgetting it’s there. But I think that when I’m on my deathbed, I might see the process of creating a consistent world with thorough commitment over the years as my work of art.

 

LONG WAY HOME

Dorothée

Do you think that if you had stayed in Los Angeles you would have developed a different type of vocabulary?

Rick

I don’t think so—

Dorothée

Do you miss California? Its landscape, its architecture, and its openness?

Rick

I probably do—maybe I’m re-creating it in my clothes. My gimmick is kind of a crude American’s blunt interpretation of European complexity. But I think I could live in my little bubble anywhere.

Dorothée

To me the French are way too conservative, and too paternalistic. As someone who grew up in the heart of the counterculture in California, how do you fit in here, in Paris now?

Rick

To me, the perversity of me being here is super delicious.

Dorothée

I’d like you to tell me about the move and settlement in Paris. You located the studio in place du Palais Bourbon, and the store in the garden of Palais Royal. Both of those neighborhoods are classy and refined. It seems you appreciate this type of polished environment, where you can create work which is deliberately unpolished.

Rick

I love the best of all worlds. I love the precision of refinement and then the abstraction of that refinement.

Dorothée

With the modern tools we have at our disposal nowadays—like the internet—why not design in L.A., fabricate in Italy, and present in Paris?

Rick

I wish I could do it all from the beach, but there’s something special that happens when working alongside the people who are constructing the clothes and furniture—there’s an emotional communication and spontaneity and momentum that makes everything gel when we are together. At least with my team.

Dorothée

Do you feel fashion belongs to Paris, the same way contemporary art belongs to New York?

Rick

The kind of fashion that I’m interested in does.

 

FREE TO MAKE

Dorothée

We often refer to your style as anti-fashion, post-minimalist, or grunge. To me you’ve really succeeded in developing your own realm, which is so rare in fashion these days. Especially since the late 1990s, early 2000s, when designers like Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang took off. Do you feel lonely now in the conversation?

Rick

I think I was lucky to come along at a time when there was enough time and space around me for people to be able to register what I did. I’m not sure someone can do that now with such a full fashion calendar and so much stimulation. I never really feel lonely, because I’m not that aware if people are paying attention. As long as I can afford to keep going comfortably, I’m fine. I’m lucky enough to be too self-absorbed to question things too much.

Dorothée

In 2002, I remember Margiela told me that it was impossible to stay independent in the fashion industry. The next season he sold his own house to Diesel. And here you are ten years later, the hope for the younger generation. How do you keep your position as an independent?

Rick

I have fantastic partners who are mega-protective workaholics. My CEO, Eleganza, crunches the numbers and organizes the troops, and my commercial director, Daddy, is traveling the world most of the year tracking our growth and guarding our commercial gates. They are the Pierre Bergé to my wannabe Yves.

Dorothée

Do you think maybe that developing a practice into other creative fields helps?

Rick

I kind of see it all as one thing—creating a pleasant fantasy of my perfect world.

Dorothée

What are your feelings about the seasonal marriage between H&M and different designers? Would you accept the brand if they came to you?

Rick

I’m creeped out by designers validating a company that thrives on taking other people’s ideas and exploiting them. I understand that knock-offs are going to happen anyway, and it’s a way for designers to claim ownership of that situation in an orgy of publicity, but it disappoints me.

Dorothée

It’s been about ten years since you’ve designed collections for the fur house Revillon. Would you do it again if you were offered a creative position in a corporate house? Or are you too happy on your own?

Rick

I did Revillon at the time because it was a small fur maison with lineage back to fin-de-siècle Paris, a moment that’s always held great attraction for me. There wasn’t a previous identity to compete with. And it was on the fringes of the fashion world, as was I, so not a hugely visible risk. The money wasn’t enough to make a difference to my life but the education and exercise in beauty were. I was asked for some other things after that, but the offers have slowed down. I guess I’m too old. But I’m too spoiled now and would be an impossible employee.

 

INFORMAL BEAUTY

Dorothée

Can we speak about Michèle Lamy—what is her role in the house of Rick Owens? Is she the artistic muse or the inspirational partner? Or both? She’s obviously someone very important in your life, as well as in your work. Is Rick Owens somehow a two persons job?

Rick

Well, we’re both pretty controlling, so we had to define territories. There’s a world called Lamyland that I’m not allowed to enter. They all speak a different language, go by a different set of rules, and measure time differently than me, but execute furs and furniture with magical results. Michèle has a connection with people that I don’t, and without her I could be completely closed off. She keeps me human and brings magic to my life.

Dorothée

You said once, “Piss is kind of my…motif.” It’s a very funny statement for someone who’s not a rock performer [smile]. What did you mean by that? Are you a true provocateur at heart?

Rick

When I started, my first published portrait was of me pissing into another colleague’s mouth. For Pitti Firenze, I did a wax statue of myself pissing onto my mirrored reflection. And I did a Nick Knight photo shoot with me pissing on a Nick Knight portrait of myself. Using piss was primal, elemental, and sleazy—some of my favorite things. I’ve always enjoyed a friendly attack on conventional straightness, but I hope it comes off as playful, not angry. If I’m lucky, I’ll be remembered as the John Waters of fashion.

Dorothée

In fashion, very often the point is to make someone beautiful. As for you, I feel you are attached to what is nonconformist. I’m curious to hear your definition of beauty.

Rick

I definitely don’t have any rules on what’s beautiful, but with an open heart and a sense of humor, things usually go in the right direction. I see a standard of beauty so stridently promoted that I want to look at an alternative.

Dorothée

What type of relationship do you visualize between your men’s and women’s collections? It feels more like siblings than husband and wife.

Rick

I think sexuality is explored in so many other places, maybe it’s not a priority for me. I’d like my clothes to express what comes after all your appetites are satisfied.

Dorothée

Women’s fashion comes from a very conservative background. The role of women was determined by the vision of masculine power. Thanks to designers with transversal visions like yours, you somehow help to set women free from that. Do you feel this kind of power in your hands?

Rick

You can’t force things on people. I’m only providing something that enough people respond to. I didn’t invent anything. Maybe I listened. It might be the opposite of power.

Dorothée

I think you are one of the first fashion designers who has, in a very direct manner, questioned gender relations in his work. Instead of being androgynous, your fashion is really about transgenders. Do you see this subtle yet essential distinction in your work as well?

Rick

Well, I love that you say that. It’s not deliberate, but I’ve always had a close relationship with the transgendered community. I admire the steely resolve that it takes to make yourself into who you want to be—and the special fierce brand of stylish humor that seems to be part of that world. And I like the idea of promoting empathy.

Dorothée

To me, I’ve always thought that transgenders were the most complete persons because they experienced both sides of the human genre. How would you describe the essence of femininity, and of masculinity?

Rick

If I were to very broadly reduce it to two words, I’d say ego for men and vision for women.

 

This conversation was originally published in PARIS LA 9 (Summer 2013).

Text © PARIS LA.

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