Photograph by Victor Lochon / Getty Images
This is an edition of the newsletter Show Notes, in which Samuel Hine reports from the front row of the global fashion week circuit. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.
Rick Owens is one of fashion’s last great truth-tellers. He says what he means, delivering his opinions with a forthrightness as stark as a concrete edifice. And these days he seems more dedicated than ever to the mission of his brand and life, which he describes as “To oppose intolerance in any way that I can.”
Owens is also one of the kindest and most personable figures in the industry. “It's a sensitive time in the world where intimacy is kind of a good idea,” he says. He is uncompromising but humble, and speaks with a warmth and openness that makes you think: This man really has it all figured out. He also has a way of taking conversations on meandering walks. Before his runway show on Thursday morning in Paris, we discussed the collection and location and ended up on the subject of his mother’s death. But he delivered the story with an almost beatific look on his face.
The designer was in a moment of personal reflection. He moved his Fall-Winter 2024 show from its usual Palais de Tokyo venue to his stately townhouse off the historic Place du Palais Bourbon in the 7th arrondissement, and when I arrived around breakfast time he was directing traffic with production staff in what is usually the dining room. Around 100 guests were due to arrive shortly, and place cards were being set on large, furry stools from the Rick Owens furniture line adjacent to the hallway-turned-runway. The collection was called “PORTERVILLE,” a nod to his California hometown.
The manse is where he and his wife, the artist Michèle Lamy, began selling their clothes 25 years ago. It soon became the brand’s full-scale headquarters. The grand salons in the front were the showroom, and the office upstairs. Eventually the brand grew too big and most employees moved to another office nearby. These days, a small team who work on the Rick Owens furniture team still clocks in at chez Owens, and he still works out of his personal design studio on the third floor when he’s not in Venice, Italy.
The show Rick Owens shows tend to have the feelings of large, gothic congregationals. Disciples enrobed in head-to-toe Rick outfits tower over the rest of the assembled, communing with old friends and comparing gear. What I’ve always admired about them is how you can see patina and wear on even the most intense runway pieces worn by fans—they don’t bust out the fits just for the show. It’s part of their uncompromising, everyday lifestyle.
Owens told me he was feeling guilty that many of his most hardcore devotees couldn’t be invited this season, owing to space restrictions. “I MIGHT HAVE TO RETHINK THIS,” read the always-awesome collection notes. He had opened his home for the show, he said, in deference to the “barbaric times” we live in, times where it didn’t feel right to hold one of his typical festival-like gatherings.
The community was represented instead on the runway. This season, Owens invited some of his “favorite utopian creatives” to contribute ideas to the collection. He worked with a London designer named Straytukay to construct gasp-inducing, alien-proportioned inflatable rubber boots. He called them a “protest.” Where other designers find their truth in refinement and line, Owens speaks through exaggerations and distensions, and this season’s clothing rivaled the inflatable boots in rotundity and scale, with enormous alpaca capes knotted across torsos, and overstuffed, head-enveloping duvet coats. As he put it in the release: “COLLECTION PROPORTIONS ARE GROTESQUE AND INHUMAN IN A HOWLING REACTION TO SOME OF THE MOST DISAPPOINTING HUMAN BEHAVIOR WE WILL WITNESS IN OUR LIFETIME.”
With the permission of another young Londoner, Leo Rothman, who had made a DIY version of the infamous Kiss platform boot, Owens constructed his own version with crafty heel shanks. Rubber jackets and trousers were made out of recycled bicycle tires with Matisse Di Maggio, a member of the Paris BDSM scene. The cult of Rick is always represented in his singular casting, which this time included Steven Raj Bhaskaran of the extreme Canadian body-mod duo Fecal Matter and the exiled Russian trans artist Gena Marvin.
Owens’s warmth extends to his hospitality. After I was handed a coffee, Lamy gave me a quick tour of the art, pointing out where—for safety’s sake—they had affixed champagne corks to the sharp ends of a spiky sculpture hanging from the ceiling. Then, around forty minutes to showtime, Owens and I walked through the salon to the towering French doors overlooking the square and began to chat.
GQ: So, why are we in your home?
Rick Owens: Because I thought that it was one of the few things that I can offer. Not very many designers can be this personal about what they’re doing, and I can, and that’s a strength, and inviting people into my house is the most authentic, intimate experience I can offer people who are interested in what I do. I regret excluding all of the people that come to my shows who don't see themselves reflected in other houses, and I like being there for them. So I regret kind of excluding them from this, but I felt a festival atmosphere was not appropriate for this moment in time.
You named the collection Porterville, but I’m sensing it's maybe not a loving tribute to your hometown.
No, it's not. I don't mean it to be bitter, but I had experienced intolerance in Porterville. When we think of where we are right now, wars are based on intolerance. Intolerance is the seed of war, intolerance and greed.
I understand your collection includes more collaborations with members of your community than usual.
Yeah. People that I respect who live their aesthetics completely and fully every day, not just for dress-up. I always endorse that and love that and encourage them to celebrate it. So to be able to ask them to collaborate, that was my small way of connecting to the community that has been so loyal and that comes to my shows that I'm excluding today.
You remain one of the only designers in this town who acknowledges the broader context of global events in their show.
We cannot be oblivious. Intolerance is something that we've all experienced. Well, intolerance is never going away. My personal effort has been to oppose intolerance in any way that I can by proposing aesthetics that are not the accepted standards or not the enforced standards. I talk about airport beauty. We're forced to march through this gauntlet of beauty—the beauty ads, the beauty goods, perfume things—that is exactly the same globally, and this has become our accepted standards of beauty. And it's narrow, and it can be a little bit cruel. I don't mean to eliminate it because it's beautiful. It's a great thing. I'm not saying to eliminate it. I'm just saying I want to offer a little bit of flexibility. I want to offer something that is not exactly that. Then, other people may see themselves with that.
Tell me about the inflatable... boots is, I guess, the right word.
They're just an affront to common good taste. They're a protest, and they're a protest against intolerance. Intolerance, the seed of war.
They remind me of the big red MSCHF boots, but done with maybe more intent behind the statement.
We're seeing proportions in fashion grow to ludicrous size. And there's something about that that is about mocking enforced standards of beauty.
The show notes described the proportions of the collection as grotesque and inhuman.
You play with exaggerated proportions and inflation frequently in your work, but why are you taking it to a more extreme level this season?
Because we're living in barbaric times, and we need to make barbaric statements. But it's not like it's going to change. It's not like I'm teaching any lessons. I'm just reflecting the frustration that I sense in the world.
Tell me a little bit more about your home and how it became the Rick Owens office.
This used to be our showroom, and people used to come buy the collection here. When we moved in, it had lowered, acoustical tile ceilings. It was inhospitable, so we ripped everything out and left it very raw. Our first seasons, everybody would come out of here covered in dust because the concrete was not sealed. So it was a very weird experience for this part of town. Then gradually, it became our offices, and I never used these rooms myself. These were always our showroom because I didn't like facing the square.
It's too urban for me, and there are no trees. The back overlooks the garden of the Ministry of the Defense, so it's a huge garden in the back. It's beautiful, and that's the life that I wanted to have. I had to sacrifice high ceilings because my offices in the back have lower ceilings. I wonder what my life would be like if I had lived with high ceilings for the past 20 years. But who knows?
What’s your best guess?
I might've gotten more pompous. More pompous and more of a douche than I am now.
What was it like living and working in the same space? I mean, we all work from home now, but you had employees clocking into your house. I’m picturing you with an espresso, padding around in slippers or something.
I've always lived in my workspace. I've always done that because it all has to be the same thing. I don't really socialize that much, but I think that's part of why I was attracted to Michèle because Michèle could bring people into my life, and I didn't have to go out. I could see the world through her culture. And then I could dip in and out. So they were clocking in, but I get up early. I have black and white movies playing while I'm taking my shower, listening to opera, and having my coffee. Opera or Julie London or Dusty Springfield these days.
Where do you go in Paris when you want to get out of the home and the office?
The Louvre. I cross the Seine, walk through the Jardin des Tuileries and go to the Louvre, and then I have lunch at Le Café Marly with friends a lot. There's a church over here called the Basilique Sainte-Clotilde. I'm not religious, but I stop by there a lot because that's where I used to go with my parents when they were alive, and that keeps me connected with them. It really feels like an extension of my house. It's this huge gray, gothic space that I love being in. I go to the Musée Rodin. Museums and gardens, that's the best thing that the city can offer.
Do you still eat at the burger place [Brasserie Bourbon] on the corner?
I do. I don't eat burgers as much as I used to, but I stop over there before I go to the gym for a hot fudge sundae.
You have hot fudge sundaes before you go to the gym?
It feels to me like men’s fashion is in a moment of transition right now, with everyone fumbling for a narrative about what to do, how to respond to the moment we’re in. But your message is always so clear.
All I know is what I'm doing. I have no idea what's happening out there. I don't know what the men's fashion zeitgeist is. I have no idea. I look at shows, though. I like looking at shows. I'm a fashion fan, but I don't connect with it, I guess. But I enjoy watching it.
I didn't know that you watched other shows.
Yeah, I'm a fashion fan. I like fashion, so I like seeing what people are doing. And also, I'm sure that I'm absorbing some information like, "This is happening a lot. Let's not go in that direction," that kind of thing or things to avoid. There are elements of conspicuous consumption that I'm seeing that are like, "Wow, things really to avoid."
It does seem like the European men’s fashion world is, in a way, turning west toward America right now. American designers are in the spotlight with Pharrell at Louis Vuitton, and you have designers like Grace Wales Bonner showing very American collections, hers inspired by Howard University.
Oh, yeah. I saw that. I don't know what makes America so appealing right now. Is now really its most shining moment that everybody wants to admire? I don't know.
Well, you're taking us back to Porterville.
I am, but resentfully and bitterly. And also, it serves my narrative because all of my shows recently have been so personal. They're all about key places that have meant a lot to me and places that I really spent time in. But Porterville, it was a coincidence that it happened now during this time because I've been talking about intolerance being the seed of war, intolerance and greed, and my experience in Porterville was one of intolerance. I mean, I was a sissy boy in an intolerant conservative community. Intolerance is never going away, but we can balance it out, and that has been what the role that I've taken upon myself to do. I want to balance out intolerance by promoting alternatives to what are the standards of beauty, what are the enforced standards of beauty. And when you can blur the standards of beauty, you can open up minds to think of other things, too.
When was the last time you went back to Porterville ?
Five years ago, I went back to Porterville for the first time in 27 years because my mom was starting chemotherapy. Then, I brought her to Europe, and I took her to Venice where I was living last summer, and she died in Venice. And it was perfect. I had her in a suite overlooking the Adriatic. She'd never been to Venice before, and she's terrified of water. That last week, she wanted to go to the water, and she wanted to see what it was like. So we actually took her out and she put her feet in the Adriatic, and then she died a week later in the Excelsior where I believe [Sergei] Diaghilev died. I know that Diaghilev and [Vaslav] Nijinsky used to stay in the Excelsior like a lot of celebrated people. We took her to be cremated on Isola San Michele, where Stravinsky's buried. So it was kind of perfect. I don't really talk about it that much, but it's a sensitive time in the world where intimacy is kind of a good idea, intimacy and honesty and warmth. And that's the whole purpose about bringing people to the house. It was the most intimate, warm thing that I could do. Like I said, a festival atmosphere just did not seem appropriate now. Also, this is authentically part of the aesthetic world that I'm making stuff from. And that's at a premium now. I mean, nothing's authentic anymore, so to be able to provide that, that's a special thing.
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Originally Appeared on GQ