Rick Owens wears his clothes best

'A factory in the snow'
From Arena Homme Plus 31 Summer/Autumn 2009
Excerpts from the interview by Jo-Ann Furniss, Photography by Nick Knight, Fashion by Panos Yiapanis

Since then we have met many times...in London after he attended sittings for the waxwork he was getting made of himself - by the artisans behind Madame Tussauds - for no reason than 'well, just because I felt like it'. That statue ended up being the centerpiece of his Pitti menswear exhibition in Florence a few years ago: it pissed a great stream of water onto a bare concrete floor from high up in the rafters of a gigantic shed.

Despite training as a painter, Owens entered the fashion industry by specialising in pattern-cutting (although in typical style, much of his craft was leanred in the knock-off garment district of LA)...He also sites historical influences such as Vionnet, Fotuny and Grès, famed for their scultpural approach to design for the body...

...All of these elements were on display in his first fully-fledged menswear show in Paris this January for autumn/winter 09. The soundtrack was from Strauss's 'Salome', one of Owens's favourite operas. 'It is from the final scene where she is singing to the severed head and saying, "You wouldn't kiss me before but you will now!" And she kisses the head,' he says with undisguised glee. 'It gives me chills just thinking about it. That music is so rapturous but it is also just hysterical. There is that tremor through the whole thing...'

Rick Owens has always worn his own menswear, yet here now emerged his own army of idealised/deranged boys. Shrouded in cashmere, tailored in mohair, protected by fur and leather - mainly fisher, mink, alligator, kangaroo and horsehide - a cross between high priests and slaughtermen, strangely classical yet almost post-apocalyptic.

'When I was looking at this show I was thinking about what I felt when I started in fashion', explains the designer. 'At first my whole idea was that I was very anti-show. I resented that radical and extreme silhouettes and ideas were only reserved for the runway and that this was so un-punk rock, fancy and bourgeois. So I wanted to corrupt from within by making silhouettes that were extreme and more challenging - but I would do everything in washed grey and it would be soft so it could slip into daytime life. I insisted it was daywear and people wore it in the day, forcing them to wear glamorous looks in a grungy way. It felt honest to bring the theatrical fashion moment into everyday life. That's why I found it hard with shows at first; I never liked the idea of making things through shows into status symbols to impress. I have kind of balanced it all out now and worked it out, but I'm still holding on to that initial idea - and with this men's show I really did have to consider it all again.'

'I also wanted the notion of kids who wanted to be invited to the party but never were, so they made their own party. I wanted to use the idea of making the boys over to be my dream boys: Joe Dallesandros, Klaus Nomis...Well, actually that dream boy is a cross between Klaus Nomi and Divine, shaving their eyebrows and hairline the way she did. It is that self-invention thing: I created myself, everything is fake and I insisted so hard it became me. It was the same with the men's show - I created my creatures. I loved it!'

'I was looking at some blogs this morning about the show; they're always kind of honest...well, more absolutely vicious, and I do quite enjoy that. So I was looking at Fashion Spot or Zeitgeist or something and it said, "Rick looks like a creepy guy who probably belongs to NAMBLA and lurks in the corners of gay bars looking for chickens to plough through..." Something along those lines. It was really good! I kept it - I might well print it on a T-shirt. I thought, oh my God, they're so spot on. That's how my life could have been.' And he laughs. Never take Rick Owens too seriously, but underestimate him at your peril.