In the last years we have been used to see the research in fashion industry of a frenetic and constant change, a continuos introduction to new or reinterpreted theme from the past, a mix between different decades’ styles. Season after season, designers try to mess up with colour palettes, silhouettes and cuts, in an attempt to catch the attention of critics and consumers to become the most followed brand of the moment.
“Change”, it often is a scary word, and it often forces its way in our everyday life in many ways. It’s something that disturbs our habits, that pushes us beyond our comfort zones, but it’s the introduction to something new, to a progress, and avoiding it usually leads to a lack of artistic production and growth. However there is always a small group of people that goes upstream, that refuse this constant change and focuses on regularity and consistency. In fashion, Rick Owens is the leading figure of this way of thinking, he’s the anti-fashion king. His collections slightly vary one season to the next, receiving a sense of timelessness, an infinite universal appeal.
Credits: Olivier Zahm
Born in a small town in California, Rick Saturnino Owens grew up among classical literature, philosophy, music and religion thanks to his father John. Details that forged the spirit of the upcoming designer and visionary, building the core of his way of thinking.
After High School, he moved to Los Angeles as “moving to New York would have been overly ambitious, and Paris was as much an option as the moon”. Owens studied fine art at Otis College of Art and Design, but after two years he dropped out and took a course in pattern cutting at Trade Technical College. After some years Owens accepted a position for the subject he studied at a sportswear company owned by his future lover, muse, best friend and wife, Michèle Lamy. In 1994 he started his own label, designed in his bedroom at Chateau Marmont, selling exclusively to Charles Gallay, one of LA’s hippest and most directional retailers.
Credits: Donald Gjoka - Fotosite
Thanks to a fortuity, André Leon Talley saw Owens’ clothes in a window in New York and contacted Anna Wintour to arrange a fashion show, which Owens semi-reluctantly agreed, worried about exposing his “very narrow aesthetic to the voracious appetite of the runway arena”. Everything that happened since then is well known. The brand had a significant growth and required a difficult decision from its designer, but, instead of selling his company to a fashion conglomerate, Owens signed with EBA, an Italian sales agency.
In 2003 the designer relocated to Paris with Lamy and now they operate OwensCorp, their multimillionaire company, that has no marketing office, that has never been advertised, that do not reacts to trends of the season, yet it’s a main symbol of the global fashion market.
Owens’s widespread resonance amongst generations is attributed to his garments’ abilities to fill our needs without compromise. They are purposefully crafted to work with our bodies, deleting the need for self-manipulation, which is pandemic within fashion. They marry Classical influences to Brutalist design and an ascetic tribalism. "I try to make clothes the way Lou Reed does music, with minimal chord changes," he has said. "It's about giving everything I make a worn, softened feel. It's about an elegance being tinged with the masculine, the luxury of not caring.” The garment is a timeless piece of art, it’s a uniform but is creative and free of temporary details, it’s a mix between flexibility and constrainment, thanks also to his muse Michèle, "It's kind of like asking a gypsy to organise a war with a fascist," Owens says of his working relationship with Lamy. "She's so generous and flexible with deadlines and I'm not. She's the couture element”
He avoids the traditional and easily defined, instead he offers us an experience rather than just a single garment. But most importantly, his clothes do not demand perfection and neither does Owens. “I like proposing things that might not be considered beautiful, but if held at the right angle under the right light with the right attitude, they are,” he says. “I think an open heart makes everything more beautiful.”
In a modern fashion industry ruled by luxury-goods conglomerates and an excess of merchandise that is both overwhelming and, increasingly, banal, Owens' less-than-conventional career is an inspiration. The designer is less than reverent in his treatment of haute materials, constantly encouraging the finest cashmere to ladder or silk chiffon to fray. His colour palette is monochrome and all the shades of "shadow" and "dust" in between.
"I like classicism," he has said. "I like historic reference. I like something new with something almost ancient. I like discipline and the idea of restraint. I was always anti the whole moving-and-manipulating-the-body-around. It's like telling someone that their body isn't right and needs to be redone. When I make clothes it's about using bias cut, jersey and drape around the body. It has always been important to me that the clothes are somehow affectionate.”
"We're people who have been given an opportunity to express ourselves and to create," he says. "This is after years of reading, years of exploring, years of self-destructing. Especially as a reflection of the latter, this is the opposite of that. This is composing, making something instead of degenerating and why wouldn't I want to commit to that? I'm not taking it for granted. I'm lucky because I was in the right place, with the right people, at the right time. That kind of opportunity doesn't come along very often so, as long as you have it, take full advantage. I truly love what I'm doing."
Inspired by the work of Joy Yoon on Hypebeast , citations from the interview by Susannah Frankel on Independent.