If fashion was a cult, we would all worship Rick Owens. Three-time CFDA winner - Perry Ellis 2002, Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement 2017, American Men’s Designer of the Year 2019 - Owens is slowly and surely turning the high-end luxury world upside down and painting it his distinctive black colour. His dark post-apocalyptic vision embodies all of those things our parents warned us about when we were young…what nobody told us, though, was how attractive this rebellion would be.
Rick Owens, “The Lord of Darkness” and his elusive beginnings
The explosion of “glunge"
In 1994, Owens launched his eponymous label at Hollywood Boulevard with a debut womenswear collection that was quickly picked up and sold exclusively by the legendary vanguard boutique, Charles Gallay. His was a daring and dangerous aesthetic, fit (although not completely) for the grunge movement of the decade; a good dose of goth feels put the finishing touch to his rule-breaking fashion label. Black became an all-seasonal colour, and “glunge” - the mix of grunge and glamour, of rough appearance and sophisticated craftsmanship - became a new reality in the fashion panorama. His sharp sculptural leather jackets and directional pillar dresses in particular, were a big hit among the cult fanatics of glam rock and extreme grunge. By 1999, his creations were being sold at the giant departmental Barney’s.
With the turn of the century, Owens' success started accelerating even faster. In 2001, his label crossed borders and went international, moving its centre of production to Italy after a deal with group Eo Bocci Associati. The same year, rising model debutante Kate Moss was featured in French Vogue wearing one of Owens’ signature leather jackets that had garnered him such a cult following in L.A. His official breakthrough debut in New York S/S 2002 with renowned sponsors Anna Wintour and American Vogue, marked the start of the Rick Owens fashion act: an ongoing collaboration with show stylist Panos Yiapanis, an appointment as artistic director for the French fur maison Revillon, and a move to Paris - happened only months later.
“I am very fascinated by the contrasts that are created in some practices apparently very different from each other. This kind of suspended time, with a weird combination between menace and vulnerability, need and hunger, and kindness….”
Avant-garde with a wink to the classics
Defined by an in-transferrable dark aesthetic and a rare artistic universe, Owens’ unequivocal talent for the dichotomy of colour, time, and show has transformed his personal branding into a globally-acclaimed fashion label, where French underworld black draping fabric and high-crafting techniques mix with Hollywood architectonic glamour. His creations merge a Brutalist futuristic concept with deconstructed silhouettes, and it is this tip to classicist structures in radically visionary concepts that has crowned him as one of the world’s most multifaceted designers. Owens’ designs brush the fine line between Fashion and Art, and are reflective of his stimulating, rich surroundings and his bespoken austere dystopian character. For those seeking “order and logic, with a moment of madness” - a powerfully transgressing but ascetically distressed fashion - , Owens’ clothes are cult (and glam) coveted favourites.
Gender structures? Not here
Considered to be one of the era’s genderless godfathers, Owens is respecting of gender, but an advocate for its conflux, whether it be through draping, tailoring, figure-hugging, or asymmetrical cuts. For the designer, fashion is the midpoint between the establishment of what is feminine and masculine, and a creative landscape for strong proposals that flag either androgynous realities or new sex based statements. Below are some of our favourite moments, when Owens travelled beyond the dividing lines of gender to reinvent the fashion industry into his unorthodox cosmos:
Rick Owens S/S 17 Menswear
Among the transitory currents that marked 2016, Owens presented a Spring collection lead by a surprising “After the Gold Rush” levity and unfinished processes. Largely disproportionate billowing bottoms threatened to swallow the model’s frames but were artfully suspended in motion or structured with slim-tight leather jackets tops. Sheer pooling duchesse satin and light-wearing gauzy fabrics continued to give the collection a refreshing after-dark allure.
Rick Owens S/S 20 Menswear
The Yamomoto-Beuys-Bowie reference collection put emphasis on the “exposed flesh”, implied and shown, as a visual stimulus for the eye. Suggestion was painted in the cut-out thin cashmere layers of the (very) deep V-necks and one-legged, one-shouldered pieces. Structured jacket suits with oversized epaulettes in a terracotta earthy colour palette clashed with the silver platform boots and the white-red-blue ensemble of some pieces, that worked together to conceive a glamorous organic take on Owens’ usual black dystopian preference.
Rick Owens Wicked sneaker deals
Owens-designed footwear has become an intrinsic cogwheel in the dynamic edgy eagerness that is sneaker culture. What started out as a simply sarcastic commodity for the designer - (he needed them to go to the gym!) - soon turned into a global hit by the masses and the loyal fans alike, who could not get enough of his eye-popping silhouette combinations.
First, came the “Dunks” and the trademark clash with Nike due to their close resemblance and overlapping features with the Nike Air Force 1s. A redesign of the popular sneakers followed the cease, and the result were the now well-known funky “Geobaskets”. Converse-inspired “Ramones” were a polished synthesis of high-top materials (leather and neoprene) with darker aesthetics. “Island Dunks” were built on the original stencil of Owens’ footwear, but with an unexplored profile: laceless and with clean cut geometrical lines, their singular eyelet tabs were either hidden behind a thick leather cover or are built on a flapping sideline tab, depending on the model. Then came the collaborations:
Rick Owens x Adidas, 2013-2017
2013 opened with the first of a now-legendary collaboration between Owens and the German sportswear label, where Adidas’ evolving research and experimenting sneaker design joined forces with Owens’ iconic artistic interpretations in several creations that were nothing short of fireworks. The “Tech Runner” and the “Springblade”, to name two, were some honourable releases that sparked applauses in the fashion world.
Geometric in design and with a blocky identifiable sole sticking out from the back, the “Tech Runner” was a show of Owens’ play with proportions and extremism of the simple silhouette. It was also composed of a contrasting synthetic heel patch, a synthetic sock lining and a shorter tongue that combined to give the sneaker a rather elevated and flexible overarching look. They were more conventional than the usual Owens style, but they were a perfect demonstration of the designer’s duality and versatility; his appeal to the niche and to the popular. Unmistakable and visionary, the “Springblade” was the work of Adidas’ Spring Blade technology applied to the body of the “Tech Runner”. With elastic polymer blades in the sole and an uplifted toe box, the soccer-boxing hybrid sneaker gave off a pointy but sleek air that screamed ‘high alert’ and the consolidation of yet another Owens-Adidas classic. The sneaker was built with matte washed fabrics in black, white, and a striking futuristic metal that had also made an appearance in Owens’ “Geobaskets” of the same season. In short words, “Springblade” was on another league of its own.
Rick Owens x Veja, 2019
Following his four year spell with Adidas, Owens turned his back on everything hype and quickly found a parallel mindset with the duo creators (Sébastien Kopp and Ghislain Morillion) of the French label known for its responsible environmental supply chain and transcendental brand positioning. With the distinct imprint of Veja’s innovative and new technology efforts, the running (or more accurately, the “light jog”) sneakers were made of 45% bio materials (banana oil, wool knit, rice husk), recycled plastic bottles, and natural rubber, featuring a vegetable castor oil silhouette. The vegan hiking sneaker similarly used sustainable alternatives, including corn waste that was turned into a durable leather-resembling material. This time, Owens did not deviate from his usual colour scheme of cream beige, white, dust grey and black, and the final result was simple, but spectacular.
“At this point, I’ve probably poisoned the earth more than I could personally replace, but maybe I can be a voice suggesting there are new, better ways to consume. Beyond the ecological responsibility, it’s about being more thoughtful and more considerate about everything we buy, and that’s an attitude I totally endorse.” (Rick Owens, Vogue)
Retrospective modernism furnishings
Fashion apart, Owens has also dabbled into the world of interior design. His first experiments started in 2007 and since then, his furniture tinkering has been kept conspicuously hidden and out of the popular view, but still very imbued with the complex depth of his individual nature. Diverse and rare materials like Carrara marble, ox bone, moose antlers, wood and cement make up the composition of archetype furniture lines that follow the same direction of his fashion, being as they are much closer to sculptural Art pieces than actual lifestyle functionalities. His inclination for Brutalist architecture, modernism and the primitive monochromatic darkness are also present in his three-dimensional monumental designs, where comfort is tastefully ruled obsolete in the pursuit of the most artistic of forms.
The man behind the name
A misunderstood genius, cult legend, or outrageous creative; there are many ways to describe Rick Owens. Far from the mainstream discourse, his vision is uncompromising and fascinating - a delight for the secrets of the inner voice - independent and provocative as it is. He works on a wavelength that has no precedents nor similars in the fashion system, and this is where he shines the most. We say, let the darkness seduce you.
by Carlota Pano