RICK OWENS – Q&A POLIMODA by Filep Motwary

FilepMotwary: So Rick, in your opinion was there a pure art that led to monstrous results?

RickOwens: The 70s, the 70s were so great with platforms and all that exaggeration, sub exaggeration, and you know I’m not a fashion historian, I’m sure that there is a formula of what that was a response to. That kind of flamboyance There is a lot of, I guess, a lot of sexual revolutions then, but that extreme flamboyance was almost grotesque and it was almost ‘Kabuki’, it was so exaggerated, I’m always kind of impressed by that period and how they almost embraced the grotesque, and when you think of bustles and panniers, I’m sure there is a direct political link, I just haven’t studied it that much to figure it out.

Filep: In ancient history monsters were created due to lack of logical explanation, fear of things that they didn’t understand, what about today?

RICK: You know, people referred to as a gothic designer a lot, which is fine, it doesn’t bother me, but I don’t know if I would have ever been an authentic Goth, but I think I probably pretty much was,

I was as ‘Goth’ as I could get when I was young, but I think all of those kids, I would assume, are fully aware of creating this kind of severe image to mask insecurities. I always kind of assumed that everyone knew what they were doing because there was such a camp element too, and that kind of irony, it couldn’t have completely escaped everybody during that time. I think the whole black leather sinister, ominous looking clothes, I mean it’s our current defence against fear and vulnerability and insecurity, does that answer the question?

Filep: Humans created somehow modernism in their research of finding new paths, new answers for things, and…

RICK: Do you think so? I always wonder if its cycles, if it’s over exuberance and over-embellishment and then as a reaction to that the obvious reaction is reduction and reducing to essences and calming down. I think it is always just kind of a balancing act between over stimulation and calming down. Sometimes I think it is that simple. It sound super simplistic, but I think a lot of times life is super simple but then that might just be me being super simple.

Filep: Rick, are monsters retro today?

RICK: Are they retro?

Filep: Are they still around somehow?

RICK: Well you know we just had, I don’t know if this is an appropriate place to bring this up, but we just had this amazing shooting a couple of days ago and it’s shocking to think that that kind of thing… but it’s kind of not… there’s a side of me that’s shocked and there’s a side of me, I mean, that’s a darkness that most of us will never know, thank God, but there is also a side, people are talking about gun control and everything and there is a side of me thinking, you know, we are a culture that relishes violence, we’re more like a species that relishes violence, we always enjoyed a lot of violence and frankly I’m surprised this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often: Especially in a country that has never experienced war and a continent that never experienced a major war, the last was a civil war, a major war on its.., they don’t have the history, they don’t have…, I mean this is all theory and this is my completely amateur theory, I mean I hate people who make proclamations but Americans just don’t have that kind of darkness and fear and horror in their blood, the way Europeans do, Europeans they have a history of wars and I suspect that there is a human hunger for violence and every once in a while it just leaks out.

…so they are defiantly monsters…

Filep: Staying on this specific incident you refer to, as you said in Europe we have had wars and nothing as such has happened in the States, do you think the States needs a war to happen in order to calm things down for them?

RICK: No, no I don’t. I think they’ve invested in sports and violent movies, they’ve got a cupboard, but every once in a while it’s something horrible like this, its just kind of inevitable when you bring in that many people together all at once and, like I said, sometimes I’m just a little bit surprised that this doesn’t almost happen more often, because when you read blogs, when you read people’s reactions to things…

I was just reading Kathy Horn’s article about Barneys yesterday, did you read it? It was funny…, did you read all the letters afterwards, all of the responses?

Filep: Well not all of it but I read 5 or 6 of them…

RICK: There were 109 responses to that article and I read them all. Afterwards I was a little depressed, there is just this hostility, and it wasn’t just in response to this article, I see that on the internet a lot because I’m curious about this, it fascinates me how, giving a hiding place and a place to kind of to have a public form helps people inevitably get naked and hostile and superior and angry and it’s disturbing, it’s so disturbing and I realise that people that have the time and inclination to respond to something on the internet or on a blog might not have better things to do and there is a reason for that, and I think they are automatically a little suspect, and that is a very unkind thing to say and I might be totally wrong, but it’s disturbing that that’s predominant, if you go through 109 emails, it’s predominantly hostile and, that kind of freaks me out.

Filep: Back to monsters… Can a monster also be beautiful?

RICK: Well, that’s always kind of been my thing, beautiful monsters, and part of it is a lot about self acceptance because monsters are something that we all bury within, all of us feel like monsters, all of us feel we have so many flaws, sore spots, bad spots, like we are suppressing. I was thinking of this on the metro this morning, I was thinking, half of my day is kind of punishing myself for having done or said the wrong things, or criticising the world around me for not being good enough, for me not being able to move things exactly the way I want to, and I’m always kind of thinking that then I feel guilty for being such a cunt, for being so critical, and so demanding and so self centred, all about my ego and all about my needs.
So I whip myself into this frenzy of self criticism and lonely… but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that I don’t have to punish myself or feel so guilty about it, because it doesn’t really matter and nobody really cares and it’s not going to really make any difference in hundred years, so, I’ve learned to forgive myself for being a cunt, and that’s a part in all of us, we all struggle to keep that balance I think, and try and not beat ourselves up too much, and try and do better and improve and it’s a little ‘titter totter’ every single day, today I’m going to be better, oh shit, I fucked up, I’m not, …but ok, it’ll work out better tomorrow, and that’s the beautiful monster in all of us. We all have flaws but the beauty is that all of us are trying to improve and be better.

Filep: Now we move on to fetish. What makes an identity, a brand, so strong that people get frenzy about it?

RICK: Well, if I could explain that, I would package it and sell it myself! It’s about allure, it’s about mystery, I don’t think it can be done just with a formula and a plan and hard work. That’s magic, that’s the magic of fashion. You can just never predict how it’s going to be or how it’s going to end up being or what’s going to happen and when those kinds of things happen you grab onto it, because it is a mystery. It’s something to celebrate… I don’t know how it’s done, if I knew I would write a book.

Filep: Do you have your own fixation with brands and things?

RICK: I used to, more than I do now, of course its demystified now, once you are kind of backstage. After a life in factories producing clothes, it’s a little hard to be impressed by the ‘magic’ anymore, because it’s not magic – it is a lot of hard work. When I look at my stuff, it’s really rare…, I’m kind of in the position now that I envied twenty years ago, there were designers that I thought were weird and wonderful and I think I would have had appreciated ‘me’ twenty years ago. But being me, I now know how much effort, blood, sweat and tears, and how kind of boring mistakes, and how many things we had to go through, to throw away, in order to get to what we have now. So sometimes I try to be objective and step back and walk into one of my stores and try to enjoy the magic but it’s really hard, it’s almost impossible, because all I can see are flaws, all I can see are mistakes, all I can see are things that can be better next time or things I want to change. It’s really rare to get that satisfaction. Does anything of this deal with your question?

Filep: Totally! I’ve seen documentaries, people buying dolls and feed them, treat them as humans in their houses…

RICK: Oh well, that’s going to happen every once in a while, but I mean that’s not a common thing and people have worshipped possessions since forever, all of those Urns in King Tut’s tomb, so people always invested a lot emotionally, and in pets… knowing people invest all of their emotions into pets, but you know, any kind of love is positive – pretty much, I think.

Filep: Even with an object?

RICK: I don’t see why not. It’s more positive than something destructive. I would encourage somebody who was a little bit too materialistic … I mean if I had a son or a daughter I would encourage them to look towards something they could respond or reciprocate, but I try not to judge too much.

Filep: And fetish as always been linked to sexually provocative clothes, at least fashion wise, while today behaviours linked to such manners have evolved into something else. We are now aroused by let’s say, the sight of a logo or a certain designer.

RICK: You know an old friend of mine has a fetish gallery in Los Angeles and this reminded me of the whole leather scene in the 70s, and kids don’t have that now, the whole ‘leather thing’, and I remember just the whole of allure and mystic of leather bars, there was one in Los Angeles called The Spike, where we always went to and you know, it’s three in the morning and there is this loud music playing and there are all this men in leather uniforms standing around, starring straight ahead and not connecting at all, holding beers in their hands and it’s eerie, it was completely eerie, there was this suspended moment and all of these men were doing their best to look ominous, but they all wanted to be swept of their feet by somebody.

And there was this desperation and this kind of phoney…, and it was obviously about guilt and it was about repression.

The kids now don’t feel that, it doesn’t seem like they need that kind of ceremony…

Filep: Procedure…?

RICK: …yeah, procedure…

Filep: …because it is kind of a procedure at the end of the day, I think finding the equipment to express outside what you have inside, somehow…

RICK: Well, it’s pageantry and it’ so attractive, it’s like a coven of witches, it’s like a ceremony at the Vatican I mean we will always have these kinds of concept of ceremonies, it’s funny how in the gay world that kind of disappeared, I think they don’t do that anymore, I mean they do to a certain extent, but not as much as it was then. They will always have this fist-fucking bars or something, but it was more pervasive then…,

Its all with the gay marriage, now we are going to have all this gay marriages, we are not going to have this wonderful, filthy leather bars anymore. It’s a shame. We should start campaigning to put the gay world back underground..

Filep: Why do you think gay marriages will stop such things?

RICK: Because now it’s normal and healthy and there is nothing to be ashamed about and it was shame and fear that created leather bars. You had to have this fantasy of being this sinister force to fight back. Now the gay world is very well marked, very clean and sanitised. We need to bring back gay shame.

Filep: So, is luxury the new fetish?

RICK: Well, I mean, there has always been luxury. When people think that they are entitled… Entitlement, there is a big culture of entitlement and I guess that happens when a culture is successful and comfortable and in good shape, over all. It’s funny talking about hardship and war. The world does go in cycles and it makes you wonder what the next cycle of violence is going to be, because it’s kind of inevitable and it’s almost that kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I wonder, it’s something I think about.

Filep: Did you see that documentary, it just came out, about fashion in Paris, it’s a three-hour documentary.

RICK: Oh yes, I got it.

Filep: Oh my god, what a wonderful documentary, right? So precise…

RICK: You know it’s funny, there is that part about Alexander McQueen dying and they show the Kate Moss hologram and I’m talking over it – I’m talking about Alexander McQueen ‘s death, and when they were interviewing me, and I know it just happened I said “oh and this is off the record, don’t record this” but we were talking about it and I was saying how I felt and I was kind of cringing thinking oh shit they’ve got me like eulogizing Alexander McQueen and making some kind of stupid proclamation… and, as it actually turned out, what I said ended up sounding respectable and respectful… and I didn’t say anything… because I couldn’t even remember what I said, I just realised that it was my voice when I heard it and then I remembered talking about it, – nobody else is going to know because they don’t say ‘voice over by Rick Owens’, unless you recognise my voice, you wouldn’t know, but I was thinking oh my God how pompous for me to have any opinion on Alexander McQueen’s death, but what I said was fairly mutual and very respectful, so I was thinking I don’t sound like a dick, I respected that situation very much and I wouldn’t want to trivialise it or think I had anything important to say about it. So that wasn’t too bad.

Then they go to the John Galliano thing, and I’m talking over that, too! Because obviously I’d been very chatty that day and I’m thinking oh God, why was I so chatty and talking about these guys, that ended up kind of being ok, too.

Filep: I didn’t realise, and I know your voice.

RICK: I didn’t say anything that was too ridiculous.

Filep: But that was a hell of a documentary!

RICK: And I loved how they showed Margiela pictures, and I loved how they showed Thierry Mugler before and after.

Filep: How in your opinion historical cities like Florence, because you know Florence used to be the centre of fashion back in the days, everything started from there. So how can a historical city like Florence become today what it used to be in the past: A place for innovative forms of art and expression?

RICK: Well, why should it?

Filep: Having in mind that everything started there and now Paris is like the king or queen of it all.

RICK: Well you know, maybe Florence had its turn and that was lovely, and everybody else has to have its turn, maybe the next turn is going to be Hawaii!

Filep:  Do you think it’s going to change?

RICK: Yes, everything is going to change, and I don’t know if it’s going change in our lifetime but it’s destined to change, I mean fashion is about change and if it didn’t it would just drop dead, so it has to.

Filep: Rick, was is the role of history and art history in your concept of fashion and how can they serve the future? Are you someone who goes back to history in general?

RICK: Not specifically, when I make clothes I think of them as arrangements or compositions of things that already exist. I don’t use a new mood board or anything but everything that has ever attracted me in my life, that is just in me somewhere, so if it’s a direct reference or a indirect reference, it’s based on history of the world, on everything that I’ve learned or I’ve retained and there are moments that capture a generation. So when you see a Paco Rabanne helmet, you’re thinking of the politics that day, the feelings, of what was on TV during that period, you have so many references that are just contained in that Paco Rabanne helmet, and if you put that Paco Rabanne helmet, something that’s alludes to it, your collection with a destroyed leather coat, you are creating that composition that has 60’s TV references mixed with something…, I mean you are just creating this world of references, and if you’re lucky people will feel that and relate to that because they’ll have been through the same experiences and they’ll catch that composition…

Filep: How do mean if you are lucky people will relate to that? Lucky… you used the word lucky.

RICK: If you create the composition in an attractive balanced way, the same way you prepare a meal, like if you know how much oregano is going to balance everything else out, it works and people will respond to it, people feel it and it’s kind of the same thing with clothes and references. If you kind of create the right mixture of references it’s going to be graceful, logical and poetic, and it will register…

Filep: Register… I like this word

RICK: Yes, and it will click to enough people that it kind of creates a communal moment in a way.

Filep: So, speaking of communal moments, is creation a language finally? A utility? Is it a language one needs to learn?

RICK: I don’t know if one needs to learn it, I think you just naturally learn it. If you are referring to or talking about fashion specifically, it’s such a conversation. Everything that you put on is telling other people something in subtle ways or not so subtle ways, you are communicating to people and you are communicating your desire to be noticed, your desire to not be noticed, your desire to connect, or your desire to be left alone, your desire to be admired. You’re telling people what you might be prepared to talk about, you’re kind of presenting a conservative image, that kind of lead the discussion in one direction or a liberal message that is open up a dialogue with people, I mean it’s the first step in being the person you want to be and presenting that person to other people, so yes, it’s such a dialogue.

Filep: Thank you very much.

One of several conversations and interviews by Filep Motwary, featuring  renowned individuals from the industry of fashion,  part of a project, commissioned by Linda Loppa and Polimoda  to Filep Motwary in 2013. A small selection of these interviews were later included in Danilo Venturi’s “Momenting The Mememento” published by Skira

Photo portrait, Filep Motwary ©

For older conversation between Rick Owens and Filep Motwary, press here.



Rick Owens was born in 1962 in Porterville, California. He studied fine arts at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles before taking a pattern cutting class which led him to abandon his fine art studies for a career in fashion. He launched the Rick Owens designer label in the mid nineties but it was not until almost a decade later when a shot of Kate Moss wearing one of his fitted, distressed leather jackets appeared in Vogue Paris that he gained worldwide attention and the support of American Vogue’s Anna Wintour… The rest as they say, is history