Rick OwensBy Editor in Fashion on October 13th, 2009 | 2 Comments »
I wrote a piece last year for CITY on Rick Owens that I never posted here. It’s really good, though. I think you’ll dig it.
In the past 10 years, the very notion of luxury has been diluted to the point of no return. Previously reserved for items of superior quality or those with built-in scarcity, as with precious metals and gems, the luxury market as we know it today has much more to do with the intrinsic value of a brand as defined by ads and media than it does with the actual value of a product. When a bag thatâ€™s been mass produced at a factory in China can be sold for $6,500 because it was seen on a celebrityâ€™s shoulder or because of the millions spent on marketing and branding, we can rest assured, like the financial markets at present, the luxury ceiling is about to drop.
From diamonds and gold to fur and haute couture, luxury and fashion have been bedfellows from the get go. With couturiers on the endangered species list, the fashion world is left with a black hole that no Marc Jacobs ad starring Posh Spice could ever fill. Or so I thoughtâ€¦
From the fringes of the fashion world emerges a new world couturier. Like his brethren of years gone by, the new world couturier fills said void, playing the part of designer as artist, but, instead of creating one-of-a-kind pieces like those by everyone from Schiaparelli to McQueen, his artistry is one of the mind, not of the hands of a squadron of embroiders toiling away without rest in a Parisian atelier. Mind you, there is no lack of detail or craft with this new couturier, as he focuses his time and energy working a concept, like an artist working towards a goal that may take months and years to realize. Seasons donâ€™t rule the world of these new design guru, his lifeâ€™s work is a slow, methodical climb to a place unknown until he arrives there, if ever.
Although Iâ€™m certain heâ€™d disagree if asked, included in the new guard of couturier is American designer Rick Owens. Currently residing in Paris, Southern California born Owens began his fashion career at Otis / Parsons College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.
Unhappy with the life of an art student, Owens dropped out of school before graduation, opting instead to take a pattern making class. From pattern making class to pattern maker, Owens worked for a local Zara-like company, whose designs were knocked off designer goods. With this one decision, the course of Owensâ€™ life took a self-induced tailspin, which lead him from a city so desperate to become a player in the fashion world to the epicenter of haute couture to assume his current post as fashion world darling.
Owens started small with his own label in 1994. According to Wikipedia, his line â€œfound a following, selling exclusively to Charles Gallay, a pioneering Los Angeles retailer who kept Owens in business for several years. In 2001, he signed with Italian sales agent Eo Bocci Associati for worldwide distribution, and his production moved to Italy. He began to receive attention when an image of Kate Moss shot by Corinne Day and styled by Panos Yiapanis appeared in Paris Vogue, featuring one of Owens’ fitted distressed Leather Jackets.â€
As Owens himself has admitted, he was extremely selective in choosing which stores and buyers to show his first collections to, protecting his brand image like a mother hen guarding her egg. To this end, Owens has carved out a place for himself that is somewhat of a paradox when it comes to being a rock star in the fashion world. Owens, unlike other rock star designers, like Tom Ford or Hedi Slimane, is simultaneously the ultimate fashion insider and the ultimate outsider. The mere mention of his name in the presence of those â€œwho knowâ€ garners one a certain cache that is much needed to carve out oneâ€™s place in the ever changing, ever elusive pecking order of a fashion world insider. Add to that the fact that Owens is an indie designer whose companyâ€™s revenues per year rival those of a sold out Rolling Stones tour and is partially owned by his manufacturer. The caveat, of course is that, instead of selling his soul to the devil, Owens was able to negotiate a sweetheart deal with his investors that leaves him as a partner in the business, not a paid Creative Director, whoâ€™s able to stay true to his artistic vision, but with ample capital to ensure his clothes are sold the world over. Iâ€™d say someone does get to have his cake and eat it too.
In addition to his signature line for men and women, Owens designs a capsule line called Rickowenslilies, a collection of signature silk viscose jerseys for women, DRKSHDW, a denim line consisting of signature loosely constructed cuts in a limited palette consisting only of black and charcoal, as well as a line of furniture, made using raw plywood, resin, fiberglass, cashmere and bones, the collection is inspired by his favorite shapes from Eileen Grey to Brancusi to California skate parks.
â€œThe clothes I make are my autobiography. They are the calm elegance I want to get to and the damage Iâ€™ve done on the way. They are an expression of tenderness and raging ego. They are an adolescent idealization and its inevitable defeat.â€
Like the paradox that is Rick Owens, his designs defy the odds, conceptual opposites co-existing as one, minus the struggle that seems inherent in such a coupling. The man who is the ultimate insider and the ultimate outsider creates luxury from austerity, an ability so rare and so pure that to call him a designer wouldnâ€™t do him justice. Rick Owens is designer cum artist whose lifeâ€™s work is to toil away hidden in the tower of his choice working through his personal demons using fabric, fur, and resin.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the saying goes, and the beauty in Rick Owens world is born from death and decay. Fitting for a man who silently leads the fashion world through one of the darkest times in recent history.