JANUARY 2017

HERO — RICK OWENS, SPORT AND THE SACROSANCT — SUMMER / FALL 2016 — BY JO-ANN FURNISS

SOME YEARS AGO, RICK OWENS TOLD ME: “I THINK FASHION IS LIKE SPORTS.” ALTHOUGH HE CAN’T REMEMBER SAYING THIS NOW. “WHAT DID I MEAN?” HE PONDERS, A FEW DAYS AFTER HIS LATEST WOMENSWEAR SHOW. “I CAN ADMIRE THE STRATEGY AT TIMES, BUT SOMETIMES IT IS JUST ABOUT GETTING A HOLE IN A BALL… SEE WHAT I MEAN? SEE HOW BAD I AM ABOUT SPORTS?” IT IS EARLY MARCH AND WE ARE SAT IN HIS HOME AND HEADQUARTERS IN PARIS. THE LATEST COLLECTION IS ENTITLED MASTODON, THE SAME NAME AS HIS AUTUMN-WINTER 16–17 MENSWEAR COLLECTION, SHOWN IN JANUARY THIS YEAR. HE HAD BRIEFLY CONSIDERED CALLING IT ‘MASTODONETTE’, BUT ULTIMATELY REJECTED THIS FEMINISED IDEA. MAYBE IT WAS A LITTLE TOO DISNEY FOR OWENS. BOTH COLLECTIONS WERE INSPIRED BY SOMETHING LITERALLY DARKER: THE LA BREA TAR PITS. THIS LOS ANGELES LANDMARK IS FAMED FOR PREHISTORIC ANIMAL BONES FOUND PRESERVED AFTER THE UNFORTUNATE CREATURES WANDERED INTO THAT OOZE MANY MILLENNIA AGO.

OWENS’ CLOTHING DOESN’T PLAY ON THE SUPPOSED GENDER DIVIDE – ALTHOUGH HE SAYS HIS MEN’S COLLECTIONS ARE OFTEN MORE ABOUT “WHAT DICKS MEN ARE, WITH THAT DESIRE TO DOMINATE.” YET THERE IS A TOUGHNESS AND A SOFTNESS ON DISPLAY FOR BOTH SEXES, AND AN AIM TO ACHIEVE SOMETHING DELIBERATE, BALANCED, CAREFULLY EDITED AND STILL SOMEHOW CRAZED, FREEFORM AND PHYSICALLY INSTINCTIVE FOR EACH IN HIS CLOTHING – “CONTROL AND COLLAPSE” ARE THE DEFINING WORDS FOR THE DESIGNER.

QUITE A FEW YEARS AGO, IN ANOTHER OF OUR INTERVIEWS, HE HAD SAID: “A LOT OF CLOTHING OUT THERE IS ABOUT PEOPLE STRIDENTLY HAVING TO IDENTIFY THEMSELVES TO EVERYBODY, MAKING A BIG FUSS ABOUT WHAT AN INDIVIDUAL THEY ARE. THEY WANT TO BE RECOGNISED AND THEY ARE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT THAT THAN ACTUALLY PARTICIPATING. I THINK THE CLOTHES I DESIGN ARE A CERTAIN REFLECTION OF A PULLING BACK AND NOT HAVING TO PROCLAIM WHO YOU ARE ALL THE TIME.”

WHEN OWENS HAD ORIGINALLY SPOKEN ABOUT SPORTS AND FASHION THAT WAS, IN PART, WHAT I BELIEVE HE MEANT. THAT DESIRE TO PARTICIPATE, TO BE A BIGGER PART OF A WHOLE, TO BE DRIVEN BY INSTINCT AND INTUITION AS MUCH AS STRATEGY AND TO ENJOY A CERTAIN SUBLIMATION OF SELF…

WHILE FASHION MIGHT BE SEEN AS A PURSUIT OF RAMPANT INDIVIDUALISTS, IT ACTUALLY ISN’T. ON THE PART OF THE DESIGNER/CREATIVE DIRECTOR, IT OFTEN INVOLVES CHANNELLING INSPIRATION THAT COMES FROM OUTSIDE THE INDIVIDUAL, AND BEING A CONDUIT OR A MEDIUM FOR AN INEXPLICABLE FORCE THAT SOMEHOW GUIDES A CREATIVE PERSON IN WHAT HE OR SHE DOES – AND MAKE NO MISTAKE, THIS DOES NOT INVOLVE LISTENING TO FOCUS GROUPS, MARKETING OR MERCHANDISING PEOPLE. ON THE PART OF THE ENLIGHTENED CONSUMER, IT IS NOT ABOUT AMASSING A GREAT GLUT OF CLOTHING FOR THE SHOWY SAKE OF IT ALL, BUT FOLLOWING A FASHION DESIGNER AND A BRAND THE WAY SOME MIGHT FOLLOW A FOOTBALL TEAM. THIS INVOLVES HAVING AN EMOTIONAL COMMITMENT TO A DESIGNER AND THEIR OUTPUT – THERE ARE GOOD SEASONS AND THERE ARE BAD SEASONS BUT THEY ARE STILL YOUR TEAM. AND AS THE SAYING GOES, THERE IS NO I IN TEAM; THIS IS ABOUT BELIEVING IN FASHION AS SOMETHING BIGGER THAN YOU. JUST LIKE FOOTBALL, OR WHATEVER YOUR CHOSEN SPORT MIGHT BE, FASHION IS EMOTIVE AND IN NEED OF LOYALTY AND COMMITMENT. IT IS ABOUT BUYING CLOTHES THAT HAVE A DEFINED THOUGHT PROCESS, TECHNIQUE AND PHILOSOPHY BEHIND THEM, RATHER THAN ‘OH, THAT’S A NICE JUMPER. IT GOES WITH MY EYES.’ WOULD YOU SUPPORT A FOOTBALL TEAM JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKED THE COLOUR OF THE KIT? THERE IS MUCH MORE TO FASHION THAN THAT, AND PARTICULARLY TO RICK OWENS’ FASHION.

“THAT’S WHAT IT ALWAYS WAS IN THE PAST; IT WAS BACKING A TEAM,” SAYS OWENS OF HOW FASHION WORKS FOR HIM. “AND IF IT IS A CASE OF BUYING THINGS STRAIGHT AFTER A SHOW, IT DEMYSTIFIES FASHION TOO MUCH. PEOPLE WANT TO FEEL LIKE THEY BELONG AND THAT THERE IS AN IDEA OR MINDSET BEHIND IT. JUST SAYING ‘I WANT TO SELL YOU THIS,’ FEELS QUITE DISRESPECTFUL TO ME. MAYBE FASHION IS LIKE SPORT IN THE WAY IT HAS GROWN INTO A STADIUM EVENT WHEN IT USED TO BE FAR MORE PERSONAL, MORE CULTISH.”

SAYING THAT, RICK OWENS IS AT THE HEAD OF A FULLY-FLEDGED ‘LIFESTYLE BRAND’ AND A PHENOMENALLY SUCCESSFUL ONE. THE DESIGNER IS CERTAINLY ONE OF THE BIGGEST INDEPENDENTS IN THE WORLD AND, LET’S REMEMBER, GIORGIO ARMANI IS ALSO AMONG THAT NUMBER. RICK OWENS BRISTLES AT THIS IDEA WITH ALL OF ITS ASPIRATIONAL AND BOURGEOIS CONNOTATIONS – ALTHOUGH HE IS A FAN OF ARMANI – AND YET HIS TOO IS A LIFESTYLE BRAND WITH VAST CLOTHING COLLECTIONS FOR WOMEN AND MEN, AN E-COMMERCE SITE, A FLOURISHING FURNITURE BUSINESS, OBJET D’ART, LEATHER GOODS, JEWELLERY, BOOKS AND EVEN A LINE OF SWIMWEAR. YES, SWIMWEAR. IT IS A LIFESTYLE BRAND ALTHOUGH, TO REASSURE THE DESIGNER, I ALWAYS STRESS THAT THIS IS THE LIFESTYLE BRAND OF A SICK, TWISTED PERVERT – WHICH COMFORTS HIM SOMEWHAT. IN OTHER WORDS, THIS IS A BRAND INTRINSICALLY BASED ON AND LINKED TO RICK OWENS’ OWN LIFE. AND THAT’S THE DIFFERENCE YOU SEE; DESPITE ITS LEVIATHAN SIZE, RICK OWENS THE BRAND IS STILL PERSONAL, STILL CULTISH. IT IS THE REASON WHY IT HAS SO MANY FERVENT SUPPORTERS, AS MAD KEEN AS ANY FOOTBALL FANS OR RELIGIOUS DEVOTEES. YOU JUST HAVE TO ENTER ONE OF HIS SHOW SPACES TO SEE THEM ALL, GATHERED EN MASSE, INSTANTLY IDENTIFIABLE.

“WHEN I WAS A KID GOING TO SEE THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, THAT WAS THE LIFE I WANTED. ALL THOSE CHEERFUL, WEIRDO FREAKS – I WANTED TO BE ONE OF THEM,” EXPLAINS THE DESIGNER. “NOW, I WALK INTO MY SHOWS AND I LOOK AT EVERYONE AND THINK ‘JESUS, I FINALLY GOT THERE.’”

YET, DESPITE BEING THE SELF-MADE FRANK N. FURTER OF FASHION, THERE IS SOMETHING IN RICK OWENS THAT AT THE SAME TIME SEEKS QUIET REPOSE AND THE SUBLIMATION OF SELF – YOU CAN ALSO SEE AND FEEL THIS IN HIS CLOTHING, ATTUNED AS IT IS IN PART TO A SILENT, SENSUOUS, NON-OSTENTATIOUS FORM OF LUXURY. THIS IS ALSO A PARTICULAR CONCERN OF THE MASTODON COLLECTIONS.

“HAVE I EVER TOLD YOU ABOUT THE ONLY OTHER JOB I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE?” ENQUIRES THE DESIGNER. “I WOULD LIKE TO BE HEAD GARDENER AT THE VATICAN. ALL THE PAGEANTRY, MODESTY, CORRUPTION AND PURITY OF THAT POSITION…” THIS IS SOMETHING OF A REVERIE FOR OWENS – I DON’T KNOW IF HE HAS THE SLIGHTEST IDEA ABOUT ACTUAL GARDENING. SAYING THAT, ROMAN CATHOLICISM IS SOMETHING THAT HAS CERTAINLY SHAPED HIS AESTHETIC CONCERNS AND IMPACTS ON THE IDEAS BEHIND MASTODON.

“THE VANITY OF HUMANITY,” HE SIGHS. “THINKING THAT WE DESERVE TO GO OUT IN A FIERY APOCALYPSE – THAT’S WHAT PEOPLE THOUGHT MY SHOW WAS ABOUT, BUT IT WASN’T. IT WAS THE OPPOSITE. I THINK IT WILL BE MORE A DISAPPEARANCE IN A BANAL EVAPORATION AND MAYBE IT WILL BE VERY LOVELY. MAYBE.” IN THE WORDS OF T.S. ELIOT:

FOR THINE IS LIFE IS FOR THINE IS THE

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS NOT WITH A BANG BUT A WHIMPER.