Against the fashion realm’s luxury conglomerates and often frivolous collaborations, Rick Owens remains an outlier of authentic self-expression.
Whether for better or worse, collaborations that bring together players from diametrically opposed ends of the luxury spectrum rule over the world of fashion with an iron fist. For some, stamping products with unlikely logos and brandings that once would have been unthinkable (apparently, we all long for a co-branded DHL phone case) is a viable business model, while for others it can seem like a forlorn attempt to revive past glories. But what do they say about authenticity?
We’ll let fashion designer Rick Owens, who owns 80 percent of Owenscorp and has no need to submit to the wiles of corporate sharks to stay afloat, weigh in on the subject. “In the worst cases, fashion collabs are obvious hype machines made to artificially stimulate sales,” he says, “but in the best cases, they can be creative encounters between giants that promote compromise, friendship and community. I’m fine with something in the middle.”
For his latest collaboration with Italian outerwear giant Moncler, which debuted in March, Owens imagined a chimaera of “a new-age isolation tank and an Egyptian tomb”. A sarcophagus, if you’ll allow it. And were those ancient pharaohs to walk among us, what would those look like? According to fashion’s Lord of Darkness, it would
be a prism-shaped pod, covered in mirrors, with gull-wing doors on the sides, upholstered with a vegetal-dyed and recycled nylon duvet and equipped with cryogenic oxygen capabilities. The designer indirectly compares the futuristic sarcophagus to Sleeping Beauty’s glass coffin, Christ’s tomb, Ellen Ripley’s 57-year sleeping pod and Michael Jackson’s hyperbaric sleeping tank – after all, it’s a space to “retreat, repose and rejuvenate” in. Would anyone care for an afternoon snooze during Blink-182’s performance at Coachella?
Moncler and Owens had already made bold experiments together, most memorably with a tour bus in 2020. This peculiar object – a phantasmagorical chamber some might call it – took Owens and his eternal muse/wife/collaborator Michèle Lamy on a trip through the Nevada desert in search of the mysterious artworks of Michael Heizer. But what began as a tour bus gradually transformed into something more, a vehicle that acted as shelter from the world, a protective bubble from all its troubles. Indeed, it morphed into a sleeping pod of sorts, an accomplishment par excellence in the feat of reductionism.
And yes, for the fashion novices out there, a sleeping chamber isn’t a foray too preposterous for fashion’s dark lord: since 2007 in a symbiotic relationship between the two pillars of the Owensverse, he’s been making furniture together with Lamy. “Clothes are a continuing dialogue with the world on a specific cycle that I love – the speed gives me momentum and a sense of purpose,” the designer explains. “But furniture – at least the furniture I like to make – is slower and more monumental. Combined, they’re both a way of confirming your values to yourself by committing to them as physically as possible.” To accompany his drop with Moncler, he designed quilted tunics and robes, and shorts with long thick socks that “melt into the quilted interior and extend the meditative and healing vibe [of the capsule]”.
Owen’s oeuvre runs the gamut of extremities. The matte sequins he employs in his collections, which he calls “an exercise in perversity”, are antithetic to his microcosm. “I started working with them because their vulgar flash seemed so alien to the muted and austere aesthetic I was pushing, and I was ready for disruption,” he explains, “I felt this last season like mercilessly and shamelessly testing everyone’s breaking point and completely overdoing them.”
But wait, there’s more. Dresses with Nosferatu-esque shoulders from autumn 2022 (beloved by Billy Porter), autumn 2023’s bubble-pink puffer coats that wrap around models like the tongues of otherworldly beasts, the Day Bed of plywood and petrified wood, which resembles a slab of stone, rubbery-latex wraparound pieces from spring 2023 all reap awe. In the same vein of fervent re-invention, self-invention and disruption, the Lord of Darkness stands tall as if cast from bronze, his jet-black hair the length of Cher’s circa 1970. Just like the wax figure in his Paris boutique at Galerie de Valois, he might well be at the centre of his own artistic universe.
At some point, when studying the Owensverse and its recurring rebellions against rigid aesthetic rules, bigotry and judgement, you might wonder what the blueprints for such a world might look like. Do they even exist? There was a video circulating on social media of Owens saying he doesn’t use mood boards. But, he now says, “That was a dumb thing for me to say. We all have image banks we refer to. I just keep mine out of view so their influence on me is as vague as possible.” He mentions his collection of screenshots, with folders titled Inhuman (it contains portraits of heroes like Salvador Dali, Joseph Beuys and Klaus Novi), Salon (images of interiors, from Pierre Chareau to Adolphe Appia) and Bible, with depictions of the creations of his that he finds most successful.
Might the latter, one wonders, contain the strobe helmet from his autumn 2022 menswear collection or the matte-sequin- embellished puffer bolero from 2023? Marble tomb chairs topped with antlers? Or even imagined stills or sketches of photographer Matt Lambert’s Butt Muscle video, featuring American drag artist Christeene, on which the designer and Lamy collaborated in 2017 and which Owens still recalls with fondness?
“The world can be a very judgementally condemning and overly moralistic place. I feel a responsibility to counterbalance that with light-hearted cheerful depravity,” he says. Lubed-up Christeene, a levitating Lamy in a dress designed by Owens himself and about a half-dozen derrières showed au naturel may have seemed chic and adorable to some, but Sodom and Gomorrah-ble to the sanctimonious. To Owens, however, such visuals are what counters the self-righteousness, allowing for tender and authentic expressions of love. “It was a video about experiencing love through whatever channels you have to,” he says, “and working on it felt like layers of vibrating and radiating love.
In a world of mergers and acquisitions, Owens remains his own man, steadfast and independent. Fervently and determedly, he embarks on ventures that uphold his creative vision unadulterated by the vociferous opinion of various boards and committees. May the Lord of Darkness reign forever.
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