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April 19 2014

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Rick Owens: A Man And His Monument

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Rick Owens has a well-documented taste for the monumental. Rather than swerve from inspiration to inspiration season after season, he contents himself with refining the dark, seductive ideas of his collections—laying, in effect, another brick in the wall with each outing. His furniture, which he shows at galleries in New York and, coming soon, London, embraces monumentalism, too: He recently debuted (and better still, sold) a ton-and-a-half alabaster bed.

No surprise, then, to find that Rizzoli’s new monograph on his work, Rick Owens, designed by Owens himself and featuring contributions from Olivier Zahm, Maria Luisa Frisa, and Francesco Bonami, is such an imposing object. (If any book ever demanded coffee-table space rather than bookshelf seclusion, this is it—try finding a bookcase to fit it.) “It does seem a bit shameless, doesn’t it?” Owens laughed. “I’ve always enjoyed the grand gesture. It’s a simple device but usually effective. I like resoluteness.” Style.com checked in with the Paris-based designer just before his Spring ’12 show to talk frivolity, fashion, and the restorative power of a good nap.

Your aesthetic has been very consistent over the course of your career, and you’ve talked about returning to and tweaking your favorite shapes and themes. Does that consistency make it harder or easier to select what should be in a retrospective book like this one?
Maybe the highlights are more visible when the movement is slow. I didn’t have any problem choosing favorite moments, and having the excuse to deliberate over them was pure pleasure. Being able to select your strong moments and quietly sweep the weak ones under the rug is a very validating exercise that I highly recommend to anyone—the delusion of control!

The word “frivolous” crops up several times in the book: “The word [fashion] seems to imply a frivolous whim”; designers changing their aesthetics season in and season out are frivolous. What’s the opposite, to you, of this frivolity? And is this opposite what you’re striving for?
Oh dear, did I sound disapproving? Because frivolous is kind of my middle name. But I do like to propose something a bit more sedate and steady to balance out all the stimulation out there. When people stick to something, it makes me feel that they know who they are. And I hate throwing out something valid for the sake of grasping for the new. I’m not saying that I’ve got the only answer, but I feel honest about it.

There’s a great quote from you in the book about your process: “I love routine.” But the fashion world seems to have changed so much since you began designing. Has that impacted your process and your routine? Or do you do, basically, what you’ve always done?
It would probably be impossible to calculate how much I absorb of the world. I trust that I do and my gut response usually works better than overthinking things. So far. So yeah, I think I do what I’ve always done. My strategy has always been to just shut up and do a lot of work, all the time, and for better or worse, something will emerge. But I do try to stay alert.


Where does Rick Owens go to think? To relax?
I go the gym and then take a nap every day. I use them both as tools to stimulate and pace myself. I need a lot of space and they protect that.

I’ve read that you set design challenges that are antithetical to your aesthetic to test yourself—I’m thinking in particular of the “preppy” inspiration behind your Spring ’12 menswear collection. What’s the hardest test you’ve ever set yourself?
I was being a bit glib, but I do like perversity and a bit of corruption. I admit I enjoy a friendly attack on convention. And I cowardly never try anything too threatening.

Are there pieces in your line that you feel you’ve perfected?
I add pieces every season to show that I’m making an effort, but frankly, it’s the first core collection that people have consistently responded to and that I always offer. My leather, bias, and jersey story is as close to perfect as I’ll ever get.

What will we never see from Rick Owens?
Ties.

And what’s next?
A nap.

Photos: Courtesy of Rizzoli

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