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A Portrait of Rick Owens

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Richard Saturnino Owens was born in 1962 in Porterville , California, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, USA. From a social worker father and a teacher mother, he grew up in a conservative, particularly religious environment. His parents very badly understood their timid and effeminate son, who was mocked by his peers. It is from this difficult childhood that he extracts his rejection from the ordinary world and seeks a particular beauty, an other. He spent two years at Otis College of Art and Design, which was then known as Otis-Parsons, and affiliated with Parsons in New York. It was there where he studied art and design for, albeit for only two years. He did not graduate, judging his school too expensive and himeself unsure that he can find a job afterwards. He left the university for a two-year patronage course at LA's Trade-Technical College, where he is introduced to Michelle Lamy, a French woman who owns a small, inexpensive sportswear business. He would work for her for two years, imitating designer clothes - not completely legal - but his first job in fashion.

A Zandra Rhodes show in the 1990s at Charles Gallay - one of the first in Los Angeles to bring foreign fashions to the city

Lamy, nearly twenty years older than Rick Owens, is an extroverted party girl, a woman who studied law and literature, who was a journalist at Libération and who knew intimately Paris of the 1970s. She first moved to New York, then to Los Angeles where she created her brand (thanks to which she met her future husband, Rick Owens). Afterwards, she started catering (with Les Deux Cafés), a project which will be perfect for Rick Owens, in search of tranquility and solitude in his work. Michelle Lamy is his muse but also his advisor, his romantic partner and his business partner. Behind this great man lies a polymorphous woman, curious about everything and very intuitive. In 1994, Rick Owens launched his own brand. Rick Owens originally wanted to own a small, comfortable, and modest business, but he also wanted to be sold in the most reputable, most well-known stores. He then started working with his first store: Charles Gallay (in Los Angeles), a pioneering and avant-garde shop, amongst the biggest buyers of the first season of Margiela and discoverer of other talents. At the end of the 90s, Rick Owens, then established, is part of the transsexual/homosexual scene of Hollywood boulevard, with friends in local music and design. His group of friends, who both served as inspiration and models. Indeed, some are still active. Owens noted the following in an interview with Hint. He called these friends "Baroque Pearls" - a reference to deformed pearls used in Baroque jewelry. 

Hint: Do you still talk to your Baroque Pearls?

Owens: Sure, the ones who were involved in the arts and the punk rock scene, people like Glenda. He now has a born-again country band, but he does songs like "Hot, Born-Again and Horny." It's all really sexual Christian stuff. It's really funny. He's a total perv, one of the most extreme people I know. Then there's Vaginal Davis. She was around every once in a while.

Goddess Bunny (Right), one of Owen's more famous "Baroque Pearls" in the 2017 movie Scumbag

Owens began in those years to gain some visibility. In 2001, the group Eo Bocci Associati contacted him, after spotting his work in a magazine. This Italian group of manufactures then sought a standard-bearer to represent the work of Owens. A distribution agreement was signed, allowing Rick Owens' OwensCorp company to open up internationally. All production was also relocated to Italy, where it would remain for some time. He also started to collaborate with stylist Panos Yiapanis (a Cypriot who also worked with Ricardo Tisci and produced many campaigns for Owens, Givenchy, Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana) for the creation of shows. That same year, Rick's fame exploded as Kate Moss appeared in French Vogue with one of his leather jackets, shot by Corine Day. A little later that year, Kembra Pfahler (a music artist, actress, and generally transgressive performer) was shot by Annie Leibovitz in Anna Wintour's Vogue US wearing Rick Owens.

In 2002 , Rick Owens - sponsored by Anna Wintour - presented during New York fashion week for the Spring/Summer 2003 season (both male and female collections). Finally, he received the Perry Ellis Award for Emerging Talent by the council of American fashion designers. Also in 2002, the famed French fur house Revillon Frères (founded in 1723, the oldest luxury company in Paris) contacted him about producing in collaboration. Owens led the small team of three people that developed, a team much smaller than OwensCorp was at the time. For prestige, in particular, but also because it is an opportunity for him to re-create from scratch, and to work on fur, a material he particularly enjoys. Since 2003 , Rick Owens has lived in Paris, near the Assemblée nationale, in the 7th arrondissement, in a hotel converted into a workshop and a private residence. With Michelle Lamy, they own 80% of Owenscorp (they are completely independent and stress this fact strongly), with today nine shops around the world: Paris (Valois gallery, opened in 2006), London, Milan, New York, Miami, Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and most recently, Los Angeles. Though Owens lives in Paris, he does not go out much (he does not speak French), works alone, and is surrounded by collaborators only. Cynical and pragmatic his work is his main, if not his only activity, with the gym and exercise. Business of Fashion projected revenues of $120 million USD for Owenscorp in 2014.

Inside Owens' Paris home, which he and Lamy designed themselves

Owens does not draw. His short training at Parsons left him some ability, however drawing, painting, and so on are destined for Art, fashion design is too superficial, "cliché", and too unrealistic to be really artistic to him. In the same way, the collages, the walls of inspirations are foreign to him: as for the drawing, they constitute stages which are not necessary; he prefers to go directly to the garment itself, to wear a real expression and to make pieces rather than add an extra step which fulfills nothing but the pomp and ceremony of fashion design. He works from images, directly on the models. He then works on the proportions, then cuts, re-cuts, and reworks the proportions and adds lines. His style has become the object of a cult fascination, and the time when his brand was secretive is a long way in the past - his work now being the baseline of a certain aesthetic current which reaches as far as his peers and as low as high street retailers such as H&M and Zara.

Rick Owens' youth and his early work on sportswear have significantly influenced the design of the pieces he has championed since launching his own brand. We think of course his sneakers, including Geobaskets, which are, according to the creator himself, a mixture of motifs from Puma, adidas, and Nike. A sportswear influence, which finds itself woven into basic pieces (jeans, t-shirt, sneakers), coupled with a desire to create beauty "differently" (bloated, exaggerated, and so on) helps create his signature style of draped and asymmetrical garments. Volumes worked and re-worked for pieces both large but simultaneously structured. Owens has always dared with structure and seam - both in traditional cotton garments through to the fur and leather of his HUNRICKOWENS garments.

An example of Owens' work in fur, during his Fall/Winter 2016 show

Owens's proposal is not to create Gothic or even dark works: it is to create organic and playful pieces, to disassociate classic codes to jostle them. There is, of course, the predominance of black (sometimes accompanied by gray, beige, taupe), but it is only a tool, so that everyone focuses on the play of textures, volumes and materials. The style of Rick Owens is woven of paradoxes, it is hybrid, masculine and feminine, and above all futuristic. The crowds which gather outside of his shows exemplify this; of all ages and of all stripes, Owens work has a universality to it, a feature which comes from his refusal to define relative to a body or mould. The models of Rick Owens too always have a particular physique: they are not "beautiful" according to the criteria of our time, but they are in attitude, or simply "in their way" (one thus finds the leitmotif of Rick Owens to play with the criteria of the beautiful, and to reject what is "normal"). When he showed in the early 2000s , Rick Owens was sober: he exposes his work, shyly, classic, almost timidly. Conversely, Owens recent shows have a humour and choreography. Utilizing dance troupes, metal bands, and so on, Owens presents himself without losing his charm, but adding to the pageantry of his work.

These shows generate impressive buzz, and reveal the spectacular, though institutionalized, nature of these out-of-the-ordinary displays. For us, each collection contains at least some interesting pieces, but it's not so much in his current work as in his journey, his career and in the footprint he left in the fashion universe that Rick Owens fascinates us. Owens is a man who has transcended his craft.

Shop Common's selection of Owens work for Women, Men, and DRKSHDW.

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