Unapologetically unfiltered, Rick Owens is fashion’s ultimate antagonist

10 mins read

Paris-based designer Rick Owens has been called many things in his long career. An antihero, a goth, fashion’s “prince of darkness.” He’s been labeled as such because of his proclivity for a largely noir, gray and ice-hued oeuvre, his deployment of pentagram motifs on underwear or elk antlers on furniture, and an overall aesthetic that is — and he’d agree with this — rapturously anti-establishment.
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“I get it, I mean, it’s easy to categorize somebody. I summarize things quickly, too. I suppose being called goth isn’t the worst thing,” he says during a sit down interview atop the Palais de Tokyo, two days before the revealing of his Spring-Summer 2022 collection at Paris Fashion Week. “It’s like this: There’s Disney World, where you can go to find something very clean and that denies the discomforts and horrors that really exist in life. And there’s the non-Disney World, where you’ll find somebody like me, who acknowledges and tries to figure out how to accept those things and how to manage those things. When you acknowledge it, when you deal with mortality, when you deal with threat, then, yeah, it’s dark compared to Disney. I’m fine with it.”
Michèle Lamy and Rick Owens attend the Gareth Pugh show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear in 2014.
Michèle Lamy and Rick Owens attend the Gareth Pugh show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear in 2014. Credit: Michel Dufour/WireImage/Getty Images
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Owens, who is half American and half Mexican (his mother is from Puebla, just a few hours outside of Mexico City), was born and raised in Porterville, California, before launching his namesake line in Los Angeles in 1994. He relocated to Paris in 2003 with his partner Michèle Lamy, and now lives between the French capital and Venice, Italy’s Lido, where he keeps a penthouse flat that overlooks the sea (and where, during the Covid-19 pandemic, he staged and filmed intimate runway shows; Thursday’s Paris catwalk marked his return to the city after a year and a half).
His label, which remains majority owned by him and Lamy, is a success story — to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue per year, thanks to his main collection, his diffusion lines, a furniture collection, brand partnerships and more. He has received numerous accolades, including a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and is an industry darling despite remaining, to many, a bit of a dark horse. He’s also become more and more of a celebrity favorite, beloved by stars such as Lil Uzi Vert, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Timothée Chalamet, who layered Rick Owens into his recent Met Gala look.
People want to imagine that everything’s going to be fine, and that we’ve got it all under control.
Rick Owens
Above all, Owens, who turns 60 in November, may be among the most unfiltered designers working today — it’s a trait that’s rare, especially when many luxury brands fall under heavily patrolled corporate approval processes and safety stops. His honesty is refreshing: “I like bombast, yet there’s been anger all along. I grew up in such a conservative, judgy town, and it filled me with so much rage,” says Owens. “I’m still operating on that rage. This is my revenge. I’m still vengeful. I’m still a vengeful Scorpio.”
During Paris Fashion Week in 2019, Owens’ show at the Palais de Tokyo blended harmoniously with a fortuitous on-site exhibition by sculptor Thomas Houseago.
During Paris Fashion Week in 2019, Owens’ show at the Palais de Tokyo blended harmoniously with a fortuitous on-site exhibition by sculptor Thomas Houseago. Credit: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Owens’ product is ultra luxurious, but it doesn’t stick to the confines of stereotypical and mass-peddled opulence. Blistered leathers, exotic skins, tape-thin cashmere knits, overwashed denim, and a bit of roughened glamour, such as with injections of sequins or foils, have all played a role in defining his singular design vernacular. His shapes and silhouettes are outsized, clingy, languid, and, frankly, captivating. It all congeals to form something futuristic and deeply primal in tandem. Neanderthal to alien, and yet strangely well-suited for the modern era.

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