Rick Owens: Haunted House

I first met Rick Owens a millennium ago (or 1996, whichever came first) in the Mercer Hotel during New York Fashion Week. The introduction came at the behest of Laurie Pike, who had recently launched Glue, the now-defunct alternative L.A. magazine. Rick was also in from L.A., where he was based, showing his collection to editors and buyers from the convenience of his room. He coolly articulated each "droopy" piece, his long hair sweeping against brawny shoulders bulging from a wifebeater. His gym body and California-bred conversational ease contrasted with a subversive sartorial style that was, and is, both raw and refined, haunted and haute. I knew it wouldn't be long before mainstream's groggy gaze drifted his direction, eyes widening in recognition of unexpected talent from an unexpected place. Sure enough, several years later, Rick won the CFDA Perry Ellis Award for Emerging Talent, despite a decade or so of toiling on the West Coast and having already built a cult-like fan base as defined as his physique. Some time after that, he was contacted both by an Italian factory keen to produce his collections and by Revillon, the centuries-old but struggling French furrier, who wanted to install him as their new creative director. Suddenly, Rick had every reason—if two is every—to pack up and haul off to Europe, Paris to be exact. Since neither of us could steal away to each other's adopted city (in fact, he hasn't returned to the U.S. since absconding two years ago), our interview took place entirely over the phone, during which he spoke candidly about a wide range of topics, including his love of camp, his nights whiled away in tranny hustler bars and his new furniture line. By LEE CARTER

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What are you doing at this exact moment?
I'm en route to my factory, which is an hour from the airport in Bologna. I go to Italy at least once every two weeks, if not every week, and fly back to Paris on the weekends. It's actually easy, like going from L.A. to Pasadena.

Do you remember when we met?
Yes. Actually, Laurie Pike was here a little bit ago. I want to do a book with her. She's so fucking funny. That was a long time ago.

Things have changed a lot for you since then.
It's funny, I always just wanted to have a modest company, and to be independent and comfortable. I just wanted to keep doing what I thought was right. But I would be disingenuous if I said I wasn't ambitious. In the beginning, I remember seeking out the best stores I could find while protecting my identity press-wise. I didn't do many fashion spreads. So I worked with just one store in L.A., Charles Gallay. He doesn't do clothes anymore, but he was a fashion pioneer back then. He was the first to carry Versace, Montana, Mugler—all the really extreme stuff. He was the biggest buyer in the world of Margiela's first season. I showed my clothes to him first. He bought them. And he prepaid.

Was that a happier time?
Fuck no, but it was very nice and I thought it would stay that way. I was operating on a real fringe back then. In those days, I was a part of the wicked Hollywood Boulevard hustler bar world. I hung around people like Goddess Bunny, a dwarf friend of mine, and Mr. Beanbag in super sleazy, crystal, tranny hustler bars just off Hollywood Boulevard, a couple of blocks from my studio. It fit into my aesthetic of broken idealism. That was my milieu, they were my friends. I call them my "baroque pearls."

Do you still talk to your baroque pearls?
Sure, the ones who were involved in the arts and the punk rock scene, people like Glenda. He now has a born-again country band, but he does songs like "Hot, Born-Again and Horny." It's all really sexual Christian stuff. It's really funny. He's a total perv, one of the most extreme people I know. Then there's Vaginal Davis. She was around every once in a while.

Where were you before hanging out with tranny hustlers?
I had always lived on Southern California. I grew up in Porterville, which is next to Bakersfield. I went to L.A. to go to college at Parsons, but I didn't graduate. I was an art school dropout. I studied fine arts there for two years, but it was too expensive and I didn't really see a job ahead, a real job. So I went to a two-year program at a trade college learning how to pattern-make with all these Korean ladies—not glamorous. I didn't grow up in the industry, like Marc Jacobs at Halston. I ended up working for knock-off companies in L.A. I just knocked off patterns for years.

To me, the myth of Rick Owens began with your girlfriend Michelle Lamy. How did the two of you meet?
We met through my boyfriend, one of her best friends. So it's true I'm bisexual. It's supposed to be the other way around, isn't it? People are against bisexuality. It's either shit or get off the pot. It would be great if things were that black and white, but life is all about ambiguities, and sometimes you have to make up the rules as you go along. It would have been easy for me to be completely gay. There was nothing holding me back. In fact, I started out assuming I would be a gay guy who didn't really have relationships, but who would have sex anytime.

Michelle converted you?
Not at first. I was introduced to her so I could get a job as a patternmaker. She had a sportswear company. I worked for her for two years, but I could never really understand her because she has a really thick French accent. Then it just kind of happened and I really can't imagine having a relationship with anyone else. It's been almost fifteen years. God, who knows what that would be in fag years?

I always understood her to be a restaurateur.
Yes, then I went off and she became the restaurateur that people know her for. That's probably why we have a comfortable relationship, because I need a lot of alone time, but she's super gregarious. It was perfect because she basically had a party every night and was very consumed by it, while I had privacy. In a way, Michelle and I had the perfect life. Money was tight, but we had a great lifestyle. We had a decent car, had enough to go away on the weekends, and ate the most glamorous dinners every night. Then the Italians contacted me.


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