Rick Owens: Haunted House

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How did the Italian manufacturers know about you?
They saw my name in a magazine article. I wasn't completely invisible. And they were looking for someone to represent. It sounded like a good thing. They had credibility with people I trusted, like retailers who I worked with for a long time. So I thought what the hell, it's either now or never. From that, I became exposed to a whole ocean of buyers I never could have gotten on my own.

What's the size of your company now?
I think you'd be surprised. We're up to a pretty decent size.

More than, say, 10 million?
Yeah, generously, because I'm more interested in retail than press. I concentrate on doing tasteful separates at a decent price. I'm not kidding. We do some pretty basic things that flatter a lot of women. I think that's really cool. I'm just a wannabe Calvin Klein or Giorgio Armani.

C'mon, there's more to Rick Owens than that.
Okay, but I'm not doing anything very conceptual. My main concept is you don't have to be so conceptual. I'm minimal and straightforward. When I explain it to people, I compare a William-Adolphe Bouguereau painting with a Brancusi sculpture. I'm the Brancusi sculpture, just a slab of metal on a hunk of wood, but it's about the right piece of metal and the perfect gesture.

Editors seem intent on waving the goth banner over you. Do you hate that?
It doesn't bother me, but sometimes I wonder if they know my aesthetic is more campy than gothy. I'm just a big drama queen, but more queen than drama. My look is about an appreciation of teenage angst without actually having the angst. It's more objective than personal. I just ran across an article about Serge Lutens, the guy who did the make-up for Shiseido ads during the 70s and 80s. I was thinking I really want to know this guy. Or be this guy. We have so many of the same aesthetic touchstones. He was really into J.K. Huysmans, who wrote Against the Grain, whose main character Des Eissantes locked himself in an ivory tower collecting Gustav Moreau paintings, ivory snuffboxes and perfumes. I love the idea of an obsessive and sickly queen tucked away in his silk-lined bedroom.

So you're about drama?
It's all about drama and death for me. Like I love the opera Salome by Richard Strauss, it's right up there with Metallica. Even the films I watch. One of the best I've seen recently is Life Is a Miracle by Emir Kusturica. It was in Cannes last year, and he's a judge this year. It's about wartime in Serbia, but it's a comedy. It's really funny, really campy, really sweet. There had to be some queens behind it. It's too campy otherwise.

Let's talk about your collections. You don't seem like the kind of person who enjoys showing.
For a lot of designers their reward is the walk down the runway, but for me it's about selling. I'm not that extroverted and I have a very ascetic life. I just like the idea of the line being in stores. I'm more pragmatic. It's not about the glory for me. Also, I know that my stuff is not very flamboyant or fashiony. It's almost monotonous. I see fashion as something more permanent, like art or architecture. Designers used to be like that, but not anymore. That's what I try to do.

Tell me about the spring collection.
Spring was a really interesting exercise. I did things I swore I wouldn't do. I swore I wouldn't do things just for effect or put things on the runway that people couldn't wear. I broke both of those rules. At the time I felt very confident, and looking back I still do. But for some reason, at the moment, I didn't recognize I was breaking those rules. I did these ridiculously sculpted pieces, but now I see it was only a means to breaking the cycle of soft, slouchy, beigy stuff. I over-corrected by making things retardedly simple (laughs). I do have a retarded sense of humor, almost grotesque in a way.

You're so hard on yourself.
Fashion is a competition whether you like it or not. I felt I had to do something very different, which I think was a reaction to press. I thought either you can become obsessed by press, or you can take it as a challenge. Now I think I over-compensated. I reacted against the descriptions of me as dreary, gothy and dirty. So I went for sharp, crisp and constructed, which I've always been interested in anyway.

Does the press often play into your creative process?
I'm a little disappointed in myself that I was affected by press more than I thought it would be. I thought I would be impervious. I used to think I'm 40-something, I know who I want to be. But I'm a little more thin-skinned that I thought.

What about fall?
For fall I decided to do whatever the fuck I wanted. As an American, I'm probably very easy to dismiss as crude or na´ve, but instead of worrying about it, I just decided that I am crude and na´ve. I noticed there's a tremendous confectionary and feminine mood in clothes right now, which is very Parisian, like the Eiffel Tower glittering with lights at night—so nuts, so garish, so magical. The French know how to gild the lily, but I'm all about dead lilies. So for fall I wanted to do something bleak with simple aerodynamic lines, and in fabric that's falling apart and pilling. People just aren't going to come to me for a trend. People come to me for things that are a little poignant, a little broken.

Yet there's something seemingly unbreakable about you.
I'm like the tortoise. I had a long time to simmer. Twenty-year-old guys who get a lot of press have a lot of pressure to live up to. I couldn't have done it. I was a mess at 20. I was really scattered and emotionally sensitive, and probably a lot more self-absorbed than now, which is plenty.

Do you even bother reading fashion magazines?
Not really. I can't enjoy them anymore. I feel over-saturated with fashion. Interior mags are much more soothing. I just got the latest issue of World of Interiors. They go everywhere, but not like Architectural Digest going to castles. They cover the weird stuff, like huts and anything that's interesting. I like interior magazines because they're like clothes, but bigger. It's like putting on an environment. There's nothing aggressive or ostentatious about them.

Maybe you should dabble in interior design.
Well, here's something I haven't told a soul yet. I'm launching a furniture collection during men's week in July. We show men's here in the house, and we have our Revillon sales here, and since I'm already doing the furniture for the house, it makes sense to show the furniture as its own line.

Whose the manufacturer?
It's being made by this guy who lives in my house while he's fixing it up for me. He does everything here, he's a treasure. He used to make the prototypes for the furniture designer Gaetano Pesce. It'll launch with blown-glass vases, chairs, tables and lamps made of plywood, plexiglass, resin and beaver fur. The main influence is Brancusi and the other is Courbusier, so it will have a lot of curves but also a lot of geometry. I'm trying to find very classically graceful lines but in a primitive way.

Like your fashion collections.


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