Uncovering Rick Owens

Aside from a small handful of well-known exceptions, Rick Owens is fashion’s most esoteric, recherché designer. He’s like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma under a black leather tunic. And yet, most of the time he can’t wait to get out of his clothes, disrobing in the form of naked wax sculptures and flexing sleeveless arms at every turn. I’ve long known of this dichotomy, his ability to be both vampishly evasive and brutally honest, yet I learned it all over again as I caught up with him on the release of his massive (no, really) new monograph from Rizzoli

It’s been forever since your last and now-legendary interview on Hint. A lot has changed for you since then, and yet I feel like you’re exactly the same person. What’s your take on your evolution?
When was that last interview, about eight years ago? I don’t think I’ve changed. I’m turning 50 this month and I hope I’ve kind of settled into who I am. There are still days that I look in the mirror and see a silly cunt, but I’ve learned to forgive my shortcomings. I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out, but I’m not as worried about it as I used to be. I’m with the same business partners, same love story and they both feel great. I’ve certainly gotten more than my fair share and I know it.

I think that sense of contentment comes through in your luxurious new book, which, by the way, is huge! It won’t fit on my coffee table or bookshelf. It’s basically a piece of furniture. What does its size say about you?
Embarrassing display of ego, right? I usually prefer silhouette over detail and there’s a brutalist, slightly transgressive gesture in making something big and heavy. But it also implies a resoluteness. Maybe misguided, maybe not.

There is a bit of self-fetishism going on in your work, for example your exhibit at Pitti Uomo, where a naked sculpture of you pees into the mouth of another you on all fours. But rather than embarrassing, I see this is the same light as an artist using his body as a canvas. In fact there’s a tradition of male fashion designers posing nude or semi-nude. And you obviously have the physique for it. Do you see yourself as a sex object?
I don’t see myself as a sex object as much as an invention, and a flesh-and-blood expression of my aesthetic. My story is about the balance all of us have dealt with—some more, some less—between collapse and control. Self-loathing self-medicated by rigor and discipline. And the fact that I’ve presented myself in extreme situations was just a cheerful way of saying there were few limits in the world I was inviting you into.

The balance between collapse and control, I like that. I think everyone has a story of collapse. It can be a beautiful thing. Care to share a story of exquisite collapse?
Worrying the people who cared about me made the collapse less exquisite as time went on. I’ll save exquisite collapse for when I’m old and alone. I plan on going out in a blaze of vice and debauchery.

Here’s a question I’ve often wanted to ask you. If you could have a conversation with one historical figure, who would it be and what would you talk about?
I don’t mean to be provocative, but the first thought that comes into my head is Albert Speer. His architecture and imagery was so powerful and idealistic that I’m curious to know how something that could seem so right could go so wrong. It’s so deeply disturbing to see how easily the best intentions can be corrupted and degenerate into a nightmare on a dime.

Nothing like a Nazi reference. On a light note, I like the very amusing little bio you have in the book, in which you talk about your early aspirations. You wrote: “I would lay a black glittering turd on the white landscape of conformity.” Do you think you’ve achieved that?
I sure the fuck have in my own little way.

Well it seems at least one other person thinks so, whoever it was who left that withering comment on an old NY Times show review. It began with “I am appalled at Rick Owens” and describes your collections as “troll clothes for the most desperate lemmings.” I love that you reprinted it in the book, rendering it puerile and rather ridiculous. Is there more to that?
Here’s another one I love but didn’t put in: “Rick Owens looks like an overgrown circuit boy. A creepy one, at that. I could see him lurking the corners of some seedy gay bar, looking to plow his way through a series of unsuspecting twinks weekend after weekend. What is it about him that I’m supposed to find attractive? The muscles? The flowing hair? I can’t say that there is a consistent ‘type’ of guy that appeals to me, but I do like to see some sign of intelligence in a man (or woman). RO comes off as very vain and frankly, a bit dumb.” Creepy circuit boy is something I’d be proud to put on my headstone! But the the novelty of secretly listening in on a conversation about me has worn off. People get a bit surly and it’s sad.

The image of an overgrown circuit boy is pretty hilarious, but it hardly applies to you. And yeah, the internet can be a surly and sad place. I guess that means you don’t spend very much time online. Can you give us a snapshot of what you and Michele do in your leisure time?
Oh, I don’t have anything against the web. I love stuff like imjustaninsect, scalaregia, aestheteslament, showstudio. There’s wonderful stuff out there. But I don’t work with a design team so there’s always a lot to do, which gives me a happy little sense of purpose and not that much leisure time. Hon is occupied with the fur collection and the furniture. That means running around to a lot of artisans, which is just her cup of tea. Otherwise we get to a beach like Dubai or Venice Lido.

Everyone I’ve ever spoken to about making a book has said it’s one of the hardest things they’ve done. It can be melancholy. Was this your experience? Or was it a breeze?
Oh dearie me, no. It was pure pleasure. I suppose I just eliminate anything unpleasant and exaggerate the high spots.

I guess you’re not the Sentimental Sally type. Does anything get under your skin?
No, and my shit doesn’t stink.