MARCH 25 2022

MATCHES FASHION — THE INTERVIEW: RICK OWENS ON LEGACY, RESPONSIBILITY, AND THE ETERNAL SEARCH FOR SERENITY. — 25 MARCH 2022— BY BRYONY STONE

RICK OWENS IS IN HIS APARTMENT IN CONCORDIA, ITALY. DAYLIGHT ILLUMINATES THE MINIMALIST CONCRETE INTERIOR, EMPTY BUT FOR A SELECTION OF GYM MACHINES. A SHADOWY FIGURE LOOMS BEHIND HIM. THE DESIGNER’S LONG-TIME PARTNER MICHÈLE LAMY IS A BOXER – COULD THIS BE AN OVERSIZED, PERSON-SHAPED PUNCH BAG? NOT QUITE. ‘MY GOD,’ OWENS SIGHS. ‘IT’S AN EGYPTIAN SARCOPHAGUS.’

TO HERALD THE LAUNCH OF RICK OWENS SPRING/SUMMER 2022 COLLECTIONS ON MATCHESFASHION, WE GO HEAD-TO-HEAD WITH FASHION’S PRINCE OF DARKNESS.

IN ANOTHER LIFE, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING IF YOU WEREN’T A DESIGNER?

‘I WAS ALWAYS INTERESTED IN ARCHITECTURE. BEING AN ARCHITECT IS THRILLING BECAUSE YOU LEAVE, PHYSICALLY, A MONUMENT TO YOURSELF ON EARTH.’

BOTH FASHION DESIGN AND ARCHITECTURE ARE ABOUT LEGACY AND CREATING SOMETHING THAT PEOPLE CAN INHABIT PHYSICALLY AFTER YOU’RE GONE.

‘LEGACY IS AN INTERESTING THING. WHEN I LOOK BACK ON BECOMING A FASHION DESIGNER, I’M HORRIFIED BY THE AMOUNT OF EGO AND AGGRESSION THAT IT TOOK TO INSIST THAT EVERYBODY LOOK AT WHAT I WAS DOING. I’M PROUD OF IT AND A LITTLE ASHAMED.

‘IN 2017, I WAS ASKED TO DO A RETROSPECTIVE AT THE TRIENNALE DI MILANO. IT WAS A BIG HONOUR. I AGREED TO DO IT ONLY IF I COULD DO THE CURATION. IT WAS A VERY VALIDATING PROCESS BECAUSE I CREATED MY OWN OBITUARY; I WAS ABLE TO QUIETLY ELIMINATE ANY MISTAKES I EVER THOUGHT I HAD MADE, AND CELEBRATE ONLY THE SUCCESSES.’

DO YOU FEEL THAT IT’S IMPORTANT THAT YOUR MESSAGE IS RECEIVED IN THE WAY YOU INTENDED IT?

‘WHEN I STARTED DOING RUNWAY SHOWS, I WAS INSECURE ABOUT THEM. I FELT THAT MY AESTHETIC WAS SO NARROW THAT IT WOULD BE HARD FOR ME TO EXTEND THAT OVER A LONG TIME UNDER THE GLARE OF SPOTLIGHTS. I HAD NO EXPERIENCE WITH THE RUNWAY WORLD; I’D NEVER EVEN BEEN TO A SHOW… BUT OVER TIME, PEOPLE DECIDED TO TOLERATE MY PACE AND EVOLUTION AND ACCEPTED IT.

‘I’M ABLE TO CONVINCE PEOPLE THAT A SLOWER EVOLUTION THAT ISN’T THAT SENSATIONAL HAS A PLACE IN THE WORLD – THE OPPOSITE OF VORACIOUS CONSUMPTION. I THINK IT’S DUMB FOR ME TO DISAPPROVE OF ANYTHING, BUT I WANTED MY MESSAGE TO BE THE OPPOSITE OF THAT.’

YOU PRESENTED THE SS22 MEN’S COLLECTION FOGACHINE ON A BEACH NEAR VENICE, A SITE WHICH RECALLS THE SIMPLICITY AND FREEDOM OF NATURE. WAS THAT AN INTENTIONAL OPPOSITION TO OVERCONSUMPTION?

‘IT WAS A COMPLETELY PRACTICAL DECISION. DURING A PANDEMIC, HOW DO WE PRESENT FASHION IN A MODEST, SOFT, RESPECTFUL WAY? I FELT LIKE IT WAS THE RESPONSIBLE THING TO DO AT THAT MOMENT.

‘IN [THE] FACE OF ADVERSITY, YOU STEP UP AND DO YOUR VERY BEST. THAT’S WHY WE DECIDED WE HAD TO DO THESE PRESENTATIONS LIVE, AND THEY HAD TO BE LIVE STREAMED. AN ART DIRECTED AND EDITED VIDEO? WELL, I DIDN’T FEEL LIKE IT WAS ENOUGH FOR US. IT DOESN’T HAVE THE COURAGE OF DOING SOMETHING LIVE.’

THERE’S A VULNERABILITY TO LIVENESS.

‘DOING SOMETHING LIVE FEELS MORE HONOURABLE TO AN AUDIENCE THAT IS LOOKING TO YOU FOR EXCELLENCE. THERE IS AN HONESTY AND A DIRECTNESS. YOU ARE EXPOSING YOURSELF, SO THERE’S A COURAGE THERE THAT’S ADMIRABLE, I THINK, FOR PEOPLE.’

YOU APPROACH SHOWS WITH THE PRECISION AND DETAIL OF A DIRECTOR. HAS ANYONE BEEN INSTRUCTIVE IN DEVELOPING THAT QUALITY WITHIN YOU?

‘EARTH ARTISTS LIKE MICHAEL HEIZER, RICHARD SERRA OR JOSEPH BEUYS. WHEN I’VE DONE THE OUTDOOR SHOWS, I’VE ALWAYS WANTED AN ELEMENTAL FEELING. SMOKE OR FOG OR EARTH OR FIRE OR WATER ARE ELEMENTS THAT THAT MAKE YOU THINK OF TIMELESSNESS. I LIKE PUTTING MY CLOTHES IN A CONTEXT OF TIMELESSNESS: THIS COULD BE THE SKIRT THAT BELONGED TO AN EGYPTIAN BUILDER OF PYRAMIDS, AND IT’S WORN WITH SHOES REMINISCENT OF SOMETHING THE RAMONES WORE IN THE 1970S WITH A HEADDRESS FROM A 1920S SHOWGIRL…

‘I LIKE THE SCALE OF THE ENTIRE PRESENTATION IDEA AND MOOD TO BE AS HUGE AS POSSIBLE. WE’RE GOING TO TAKE UP AS MUCH SPACE WITH MODEST MEANS. WE’RE NOT GOING TO BUILD A SUPER-EXPENSIVE STAGE THAT’S GOING TO GET TORN DOWN AND THROWN AWAY TOMORROW. WE ARE GOING TO FILL THIS SPACE WITH BLUE SMOKE AND YELLOW SMOKE. WE’RE GOING TO FILL THIS SPACE WITH A HUGE FOUNTAIN THREE-STORIES HIGH. WE’RE GOING TO FILL THIS SPACE WITH BUBBLES. I ALWAYS SHOW IN THE SAME SPACE IN PARIS, THE PALAIS DE TOKYO, A MONUMENTAL ART DECO VALHALLA BUILDING. FILLING THAT SPACE IS A CHALLENGE, BUT IT’S A THRILL TOO. IT’S FUNNY HOW I STARTED OUT HESITANT ABOUT RUNWAY SHOWS AND I ENDED UP BEING MR THEATRE.’

AND THERE IS SUCH THEATRE WITHIN YOUR CLOTHES THEMSELVES – THE SCULPTURE, THE DRAPING, THE ARMOURER PERSPEX BOOTS... IT IS LIVING THEATRE.

‘WHEN I FIRST STARTED, I SWORE THAT ANYTHING I PUT ON A RUNWAY, WE WOULD PRODUCE AND SELL. I RESENTED THE FACT THAT THINGS ON THE RUNWAY WERE PROPOSED AS SPECIAL USE, SPECIAL OCCASION GARMENTS. MY MESSAGE WAS THAT EVERY DAY COULD BE FANTASY DAY, AND THAT YOU WEREN’T SAVING THINGS FOR A SPECIAL OCCASION.

‘THE PLATFORM BOOTS THAT I WEAR EVERY DAY [ARE] A “FUCK YOU!” TO THE CONVENTIONAL WORLD. AND THAT’S WHAT I WANTED MY CLOTHES TO BE. I WAS RAISED IN A VERY SMALL, CONSERVATIVE TOWN AND MY FLAMBOYANCE WAS CRITICIZED. I WAS VERY BULLIED, AND THAT FILLED ME WITH RAGE.

‘WE HAVE LIMITATIONS. I AM PROMOTING EXTENDING BEYOND THOSE LIMITATIONS AND EXPLORING FURTHER. I’M SAYING, “GO! GO! EXTEND BEYOND WHAT IS ACCEPTED OR CONVENTIONAL.”

‘I SUPPOSE A LOT OF PEOPLE ASSUME I’M KIND OF ALL ABOUT A DARK FEROCITY. BUT WE ALSO PROPOSE A LOT OF GREY SOFTNESS. DARK FEROCITY IS FUN, BUT I BELIEVE IN GENTLENESS, SOFTNESS AND MODESTY, AND I THINK A LOT OF OUR CLOTHES CONVEY THAT.’

I’M INTERESTED TO HEAR YOU TALK ABOUT GENDER AND HOW IT FIGURES IN YOUR DESIGNS.

‘IT’S HARD TO SAY, BECAUSE I KEEP MIXING THEM UP ALL THE TIME. ANYTHING I SAY NOW, I MIGHT CONTRADICT TOMORROW. IN MY YOUNGER YEARS, I WORE FULL MAKE-UP, WHITE BASE WITH EXTRA-BLACK EYES. I THINK IN KABUKI TERMS WITH AN EXAGGERATION THAT DOESN’T REALLY ACKNOWLEDGE SEXUAL LIMITS.’

DO YOU THINK THAT FASHION HAS A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY?

‘I THINK EVERYBODY HAS A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY. FASHION IS VERY SIMILAR TO ART. CULTURAL AESTHETICS WILL OUTLIVE US ALL. WE’RE MAKING CLOTHES THAT NOBODY ON THE PLANET NEEDS. MY CLOTHES ARE PURE CREATIVE EXPRESSION. BUT PURE CREATIVE EXPRESSION IS ESSENTIAL TO THE WORLD. THERE ARE TIMES WHERE I THINK I’M A POLLUTION MACHINE, BUT I AM DOING MY BEST TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE HISTORY OF AESTHETICS IN THE WORLD. I THINK BY THE RESPONSE THAT I’M GETTING, I HAVE A VALID REASON FOR BEING HERE.’

YOU CAN CONVINCE PEOPLE OF YOUR VALIDITY BY MAKING THEM FEEL SOMETHING, BY FORGING AN EMOTIONAL CONNECTION, WHICH IS WHAT YOU DO WITHIN EACH OF YOUR COLLECTIONS.

‘OH ABSOLUTELY. YOU WANT TO MAKE EMOTIONALLY MOVING POETRY. THAT’S WHAT ANY CREATOR DOES.’

LOOKING ACROSS SS22, HOW DID YOU WANT PEOPLE TO FEEL WHEN THEY WERE ENCOUNTERING EACH COLLECTION?

‘FOR FOGACHINE, THE MEN’S SS22 COLLECTION, I WANTED TO DO SOMETHING REASSURING. I WOULDN’T SAY SPIRITUAL, BECAUSE I’M NOT PROPOSING ANYTHING SPIRITUAL, BUT I WAS PROPOSING AN OPENNESS TO EXPLORING SPIRITUALITY. A SOFTNESS, A GENTLENESS, AS OPPOSED TO THE VIOLENCE OF THE MEN’S AW21 COLLECTION. THERE WAS A GIDDINESS THAT I WANTED – THE MUSIC WAS VERY OUT OF CONTROL. I WANTED A RECKLESSNESS, A GENTLE, HALLUCINOGENIC RECKLESSNESS.

‘THE WOMEN’S SS22 COLLECTION WAS A MOMENT WHERE WE WERE RETURNING TO PARIS AND WE HAD TO ADDRESS THE TRANSITION OF COMING BACK AFTER A PERIOD OF ISOLATION AND REFLECTION. DO I PRESENT SOMETHING MEEK AND MODEST AND GENTLE AND WITHDRAWN, OR DO WE SEIZE THE DAY? WE HAD TO GIVE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WERE ASKING US FOR – EXCELLENCE. WE HAD TO PROVIDE EXCELLENCE IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY.’

WHERE DO YOU SEE THE BRAND IN 2050? HOW DO YOU WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE WORLD OF THE FUTURE

‘I’M CURIOUS AS TO ANY METHOD I CAN USE TO SHARE TO SHARE MY AESTHETIC MESSAGE. ANY FORM OF COMMUNICATION, I’M GOING TO LOOK AT SERIOUSLY: HOW CAN I CORRUPT THIS FORM OF COMMUNICATION IN MY IMAGE? HOW CAN I MODIFY EVERYTHING THAT SURROUNDS ME SO THAT IT CONFORMS TO MY UNIVERSE? I DON’T KNOW IF THAT’S ABOUT EGO. MAYBE IT’S JUST PLAYING, BECAUSE A SENSE OF PLAY IS ESSENTIAL TO THE WORLD.’

CAN YOU EVER FORESEE A MOMENT IN WHICH YOU STOP?

‘THERE MIGHT BE A MOMENT THAT SOMEBODY STOPS ME. I THINK THAT FOR ANYBODY WHO CREATES AND DEVELOPS A RELATIONSHIP WITH AN AUDIENCE, IT’S HARD TO WITHDRAW FROM THAT. FEELING PEOPLE RESPOND TO YOU IS THE MOST DELICIOUS THING. I’M NOT GOING TO LIE.

‘WHEN THAT TIME COMES, I WOULD LIKE TO THINK THAT I WILL HAVE REACHED SOME LEVEL OF SERENITY BUT FRANKLY, I DON’T SEE THAT HAPPENING. I DON’T SEE THAT SENSE OF SERENITY AND I DON'T KNOW IF I EVER WILL. I’M A LITTLE NERVOUS ABOUT THAT.’

SERENITY IMPLIES AN ACCEPTANCE, A FULFILMENT, PERHAPS A CONCLUSION…

‘ACCEPTANCE AND FULFILMENT. ACCEPTANCE WITH WHERE YOU ARE IN THE WORLD, AND GRATITUDE FOR EVERYTHING THAT YOU’VE GOT INSTEAD OF A CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE THINGS THAT ARE NOT TO YOUR LIKING.

‘I‘M SO USED TO BEING ABLE TO GET MY WAY THAT IT HAS MADE ME PERHAPS A LITTLE SPOILT. I GET IMPATIENT IF I DON’T GET MY WAY FAST ENOUGH. BUT I’M NOT THAT BAD; WE DON'T HAVE A FAST TURNOVER IN MY COMPANY, SO PEOPLE MUST NOT HATE ME. I HAVEN‘T GOT THE BALANCE AS RIGHT AS I WOULD LIKE TO, BUT I’M WORKING ON IT.’

I’VE GOT ONE FINAL QUESTION FOR YOU, WHICH COMES FROM OUR CREATIVE DIRECTOR. IT’S VERY FITTING THAT YOU‘RE IN THE GYM BECAUSE HE WANTS TO KNOW WHAT YOUR WORKOUT ROUTINE IS.

‘I WORK OUT EVERY DAY AND I HAVE THREE ROUTINES THAT I REPEAT OVER AND OVER AGAIN. I’M 60 NOW, AND EVERYTHING’S STILL PRETTY GOOD. I’VE NEVER DONE CARDIO, I HATE CARDIO. I EAT LIKE A PIG AND I SMOKE, SO THERE YOU GO.’