JULY 28 2020

CFDA — RICK OWENS ON THE STATE OF THE WORLD — 28 JULY 2020 — BY ROXANNE ROBINSON

SINCE STARTING HIS OWN BRAND IN LOS ANGELES IN 1994, RICK OWENS HAS HONED IN ON HIS DARK, GOTH-COOL “ANTI-FASHION” AESTHETIC, A VIBE THAT HE HAS CONTINUOUSLY AND POWERFULLY BUILT ON SINCE HE RELOCATED TO PARIS IN 2003.

JUST BEFORE HIS 2020 CFDA AWARD NOMINATION FOR GLOBAL WOMEN’S DESIGNER OF THE YEAR WAS ANNOUNCED, OWENS CAUGHT UP WITH US TO SHARE HIS EXPERIENCES – PERSONAL AND CREATIVE – DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC, WHICH FORCED THE WORLD TO SHELTER AT HOME. FOR OWENS, THIS MAY HAVE JUST BEEN HIS HAPPY PLACE.

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR QUARANTINE EXPERIENCE. WERE YOU IN PARIS OR ITALY? ASIDE FROM THE THREAT OF THE VIRUS AND THE DAMAGE IT CAUSED TO SOCIETY, WHAT WAS THE BEST AND WORST PART OF IT FOR YOU?

I WAS IN PARIS WITH ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT. I HAD SPACE, TREES, BOOKS, AND GOOD COMPANY. BEING AWARE OF THE STRESS THE WORLD WAS UNDER JUST MADE ME MORE GRATEFUL FOR EVERYTHING I HAD. I FELT THAT THE MOST RESPONSIBLE THING I COULD DO WAS TO ABSORB AS MUCH AESTHETIC NOURISHMENT AS I COULD, TO BE READY WHEN IT WAS MY TIME TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE WORLD IN MY OWN MINISCULE WAY – BECAUSE I DO BELIEVE FASHION IS PART OF AN AESTHETIC FORCE THAT MOVES CULTURE FORWARD. WHILE I WOULDN’T EXACTLY CALL MYSELF A HUMANITARIAN, THE PURSUIT AND CULTIVATION OF BEAUTY IS ONE OF LIFE’S GREATEST REWARDS.

HOW DIFFERENT – IF ANY – WAS THE DESIGN INSPIRATION FOR YOU? I GET THE FEELING YOU HAVE MORE OF AN INTROVERTED APPROACH TO THE EXPERIENCES / IMAGES / MOODS THAT INSPIRE YOUR COLLECTIONS. IS THIS A FAIR ASSESSMENT?

I FEEL LIKE I’VE ALWAYS BEEN TALKING ABOUT OUR ETERNAL PERSONAL STRUGGLES. SELFDOUBT, SELF ACCEPTANCE, EMPATHY, EGO, RAGE, SEX – TIMELESS CONCERNS THAT ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY CAN RELATE TO. MY COLLECTIONS AND CLOTHES ARE VERY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL AND, FOR BETTER OR WORSE, I THINK PEOPLE RECOGNIZE THAT.

WHAT ABOUT THE PRACTICAL ASPECTS OF PRODUCING THE COLLECTION WHILE IN QUARANTINE? WAS YOUR TEAM/DESIGN STUDIO ACCUSTOMED TO WORKING REMOTELY? WHAT WAS SPECIFICALLY CHALLENGING? REWARDING?

WELL, THE SECOND THE FACTORY WAS ABLE TO PARTIALLY OPEN, I WAS THERE. THE ONLY REAL DIFFERENCE WAS THE MASKS. REDUCING AND DISTILLING AND EDITING IS ALWAYS MY FAVORITE THING TO DO ANYWAY AND GOING MORE EXTREME WAS A FULFILLING CHALLENGE.

WHETHER INTENTIONAL OR NOT, A LOT OF YOUR COLLECTIONS HAVE/HAD AN APOCALYPTIC FEEL TO THEM. YOU EVEN MADE MASKS PRIOR TO THIS. WAS THERE A PART OF YOU THAT FELT LIKE THE PANDEMIC WAS APOCALYPTIC? WAS IT WHAT YOU IMAGINED OR DOES SOMETHING ELSE COME TO MIND?

WELL, WITH ALL THE CONFLICT, AGGRESSION AND INSTABILITY IN THE WORLD, I THINK IT’S A MIRACLE WE LASTED THIS LONG WITHOUT A GLOBAL CRISIS. I THINK WHAT PEOPLE RECOGNIZE AS APOCALYPTIC IN MY WORLD MIGHT JUST BE MY VERSION OF A SORT OF REALISM OR BRUTALISM. IF THE OPPOSITE ENDS OF A THE SPECTRUM ARE DISNEY PINK ESCAPISM OR BLEAK DARK NIHILISM, I’M LOOKING FOR SOME KIND OF BALANCE THAT SPEAKS OF BEAUTY WITHOUT DISREGARDING THE FLAWS OF REAL LIFE. AND I LIKE MY FUN HARD, SO WHEN I DO A SHOW, WHAT I MIGHT CONSIDER JOYFUL, SOME MIGHT INTERPRET AS APOCALYPTIC.

IS THE DEFINITION OF YOUR LATEST COLLECTION PHLEGETHON A DESCRIPTION OF THE WAY YOU FELT WHILE IN CONFINEMENT AND/OR MAKING THE COLLECTION, “NOT QUITE HELL BUT ON THE WAY THERE?” WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THAT NAME?

WE ARE UNDER AN ORGANIC THREAT THAT MIGHT GET WORSE OR FINAL. AN OMINOUS RIVER IN HELL FELT APPROPRIATE. AND I LIKE TO POMPOUSLY USE THE ELEGANCE AND GLAMOUR OF A CLASSICAL REFERENCE.

YOU REFERENCE A ‘RIOT CORSAGE,’ AND I FELT THE COLLECTION WAS AN EVEN MORE SO ANARCHIST, LIKE THE PLAIDS AND STRIPES HAD AN EARLY SKA PUNK VIBE. WAS THE DEFIANT MOOD A REACTION TO THE PROTESTING AND RIOTING IN THE WAKE OF GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER? SOMETHING ELSE?

THE DEFIANCE I TALK ABOUT IS THE ETERNAL PRESENCE OF BIGOTRY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN APART OF THE WORLD AND ALWAYS WILL BE. I SEE IT AS ONE OF MY RESPONSIBILITIES TO PROVIDE HORSEFUCKING AND PISSDRINKING VIDEOS AS A COUNTERBALANCE TO KEEP THE WORLDS MORAL EQUILIBRIUM. SO REALLY, I’M KIND OF A SAINT.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY OF TRANSITIONING FROM YOUR SPECTACULAR AND DRAMATIC LIVE RUNWAY SHOWS TO AN ONLINE FORMAT. WHAT WAS MOST DIFFICULT AS WELL AS MOST EASY ABOUT THE NEW FORMAT?

I WAS MORE THAN HAPPY TO SHOW A QUIETER PERSPECTIVE TO WHO WE ARE, THE BEAUTY OF THE DAY TO DAY INTIMATE PROCESS. I LOVED CHANGING GEARS.

I WAS STRUCK BY THE SIMPLE INTIMACY OF THE PRESENTATION THAT REALLY SHOWED THE DESIGNER WORKING ON THE COLLECTION ON A MODEL TO PERFECT THE FINAL SILHOUETTE AND LOOKS. DO YOU THINK THIS IS A SIDE OF YOUR WORK THAT MANY DIDN’T GET TO WITNESS BEFORE?

I’VE BEEN AROUND FOR A WHILE NOW, SO ANYONE INTERESTED IN ME HAS ALREADY SEEN ANY INTROSPECTIVE SIDE TO ME. BUT I GUESS THERE IS A WHOLE NEW GENERATION BECOMING AWARE OF FASHION THAT MIGHT BE SURPRISED.

THE MUSIC WAS REALLY GREAT LIKE ALWAYS. HOW DID YOU CHOOSE THIS SOUNDTRACK?

I LIKE A PRACTICAL SOLUTION; THESE WERE ALL EXCLUSIVE MIXES FROM PAST SHOWS THAT I KNEW I HAD THE RIGHTS FOR. AND IT MAKES ME CRAZY WHEN THEY SUBSTITUTE SOME LAME GENERIC SOUNDTRACK FOR MY SHOWS ON YOUTUBE. QUARANTINE HAD MADE ALOT OF US REVIEW OUR LIVES AND I HAD BEEN REVIEWING MY CREATIVE LIFE, LEADING ME TO INCLUDE SOME PAST THEMES INTO THIS CURRENT COLLECTION. REVISITING PAST FAVORITE SOUNDTRACKS WAS A FUN PART OF THE PROJECT.

DID YOU THINK WHETHER FOLKS WANT TO REALLY DRESS AGAIN? AND IF EVERYONE CONTINUES TO WORK FROM HOME AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, HOW DOES THIS PROPOSITION FACTOR IN WHAT YOU DESIGN? I THINK EVEN YOUR TAILORING HAD AN EASE AND COMFORT THAT MAY INSPIRE SOMEONE TO THROW ON A JACKET FOR THEIR NEXT ZOOM MEETING. THOUGHTS?

I THINK EVERYONE’S CHOMPING AT THE BIT TO DRESS. HAVEN’T WE HAD ENOUGH COMFORT DRESSING IN THE LAST DECADE? IF WE’RE GONNA GO DOWN, I’M GOING DOWN IN HEELS AND SHOULDERPADS, NOT A COZY SWEATSUIT.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, RECYCLING/UPCYCLING HAS BEEN A PART OF YOUR WORK LATELY. I LOVE THE DISCUSSION ABOUT THE RECYCLED PLASTIC AND LEATHER PATCHES FROM 18 YEARS AGO. DO YOU THINK THE CIRCUMSTANCE OF THE PANDEMIC REINFORCED A BELIEF IN THIS OR WAS ANY OF IT A RESULT OF CIRCUMSTANCE SUCH AS SLOWED DOWN SUPPLY CHAIN DUE TO THE PANDEMIC?

I THINK WE ARE ALL FEELING THAT SOMEHOW THE PANDEMIC WAS CONNECTED TO OUR OVER CONSUMPTION AND WASTE, AND I’M THE FIRST TO ROLL MY EYES AT EARNEST DECLARATIONS OF RECYCLING AND SUSTAINABILITY EFFORTS USED AS MARKETING GIMMICKS. BUT HERE’S THE THING – EVEN IF ITS A GIMMICK, IT’S THE BEST GIMMICK IN THE WORLD.