Rick Owens on Fashion, His Signature Aesthetic and the Dr. Martens Collaboration

Rick Owens knows he has a reputation. It would be quite difficult to earn the nickname “dark lord of fashion” without being aware of it. Her eponymous label’s signature aesthetic — dark and drapey, punctuated with elements like gargoyle-spiked shoulders, men’s and women’s high heels, and bold pops of color — has won dozens of dedicated followers across the whole world. But, says Owens, “It may seem like Rick Owens’ world is just too extreme, or it may seem off-limits. I didn’t want that to happen.” In fact, if you ask him what he wants to promote with his work, he’ll tell you it’s “inclusiveness.” A dark lord he may seem, but much kinder and more outgoing than you think.

“I just want to be the guy who says, ‘We have other options,'” he explains, referencing the mainstream aesthetic of modern fashion. “What I feel is more expansive and generous.” It’s about bringing people into the fold, and as part of that project, in recent years Owens has begun collaborating with more mainstream brands like Adidas, Veja, Converse, Birkenstock and Dr. Martens. .

I caught up with the Paris-based designer on Zoom over the latest release of the latter, which features a calf-high 1918 boot as well as a riff on the iconic 8-eyelet 1460 boot finished with lacing in the shape of an Owens pentagram. We discussed this project, of course, but it quickly turned into a conversation about how Owens sees the company and what he wants to bring to it. Read on for a glimpse into the world of Rick Owens, courtesy of the man himself.

the 1460 boot, worn by performance artist and personal friend of owens, ron athey

The 1460 boot, worn by performance artist (and personal friend of Owens) Ron Athey.


On cooperation

After years of being a very isolated and reclusive designer, I felt like getting out of my little bubble. At worst, these types of collaborations can be hit machines, but at best, they can actually be something logical. I thought Doc Martens made sense for my personal interests and my personal history. Just the word “collaboration” is a positive word that I think I’m in the mood to endorse now, when in the past I might have been threatened that it meant something else.

And the other part is that I approve of communicating and becoming friends and reaching out. So it was a way for me to reach out and also to participate a little more in the world around me. It allows me to promote my agenda, but it also allows people to come in. Whereas before I might have seemed a little more distant and austere, I can use it as an invitation.

paris, france 23rd june Editorial use only For non-editorial use please ask for fashion house approval A model walks the runway during the rick owens menswear spring summer 2023 fashion show as part of paris fashion week on june 23, 2022 in paris, france photo by peter Images: whitegetty

A model walks the runway at the Owens Spring/Summer 2023 menswear show in Paris.

White Stone//Getty Images

On ‘Airport Aesthetics’

I am lucky now to have a platform where I can promote personal agendas. And those agendas are empathy and the promotion of an alternative aesthetic, because the aesthetic world, our contemporary aesthetic rules, can be so narrow. And if I can be someone who can make other suggestions and offer other options that might not be aesthetic or beauty cliches, that’s the role I’d like to have in the world.

There is this saying that I launched: “the aesthetics of the airport”. Because when you walk through an airport, you’re bound to wade through that gauntlet of fragrance ads, beauty ads, and luxury ads that all serve a very narrow purpose. Sexual longings, luxury longings, status longings – it all drives me crazy. It’s so sectarian. Bigotry is having a narrow set of rules, which are meant to be the only genuine rules. This is my interpretation.

And literally to apply. I mean, we are forced to go through these ads. And maybe it’s me who wants my business not to be… Maybe I’d be super happy to have my perfume in one of those airport shops. I don’t know yet, I’m not really sure. I didn’t understand that. Because yes, coming from me, it might sound like… What do they call it? Sour grapes. And I understand that. But I think my feelings are genuine and sincere.

rick owens show fashion week paris womenswear spring summer 2023

Owens on the catwalk during Paris Fashion Week, September 29, 2022.

White Stone//Getty Images

On consistency

What I do, or what I try to do, is to promote a set of values ​​that don’t change too much, that aren’t fickle and that are rather unshakeable. And I’m proud of it. I love the fact that I’m that guy in the fashion world who doesn’t flip everything over every collection or saturate every collection with so many ideas.

On his reputation as “impenetrable”

I’ve always wanted to promote inclusivity. But I ended up creating this thing that may seem inscrutable to people. It may seem like Rick Owens’ world is just too extreme, or it may seem off limits. I didn’t want that to happen. And then I see online that there are gatekeepers, there are people saying, “You’re not too cool to wear Rick Owens.” And it’s not me talking, it’s the guards. And so it’s funny how something that wanted to be about inclusivity ended up being about exclusivity, with that element as well. So it’s a tricky thing. I mean, I seem unwelcoming, but I’m not.

On Dr. Martens

For me, Doc Martins comes a lot from my young adult past in Hollywood, Los Angeles, where I attended punk shows. So that’s what I’m looking for. When they offer me things, that’s what Doc Marten means to me. It represents my youth, and who I wanted to be back then, and who I thought I could be. There is a very personal, nostalgic link with me and that’s what made me want to do it.

ron athey in the 1918 18 eyelet boot

Ron Athey in the 1918 18-eye boot.


To the rhythm of fashion

American vogue offered me to do my first fashion show in New York, because they wanted to promote American designers. And it was a tough decision to make, because I thought my aesthetic was so limited and quiet that it would be difficult for me to be able to pursue a catwalk career. And once you commit to a parade, you have to do them for the rest of your life. You just have to do it, otherwise you just have to give up.

So it was a tough decision to make because I was like, “I’m happy with what I’m doing. And it’s pretty quiet. I had personally sold clothes in stores for years before American vogue found me. I would take my clothes to the back of a store, where I would have an appointment and we would have a sale, and that’s how I would do it. But when they offered me this, I thought, ‘How can you refuse this? And I’m 40, so fuck it, I’ll give it a try.’ So I did.

And I stumbled several times, because I thought I needed to change faster, to refresh myself; I thought the glare of a catwalk was going to burn my little aesthetic very, very fast. But then I learned to pace myself. Somewhere along the line, I learned to look at the intricacies and move them around, so there was movement, momentum, and progress at a pace that matched my world. And that’s one of the things I’m most proud of. At some point, everyone in the fashion world decided to tolerate my pace.

rick owens fashion show paris fashion week menswear spring summer 2023

Another look from Owens’ Spring/Summer 2023 menswear show.

Estrop//Getty Images

On flipping Rick Owens’ look

In my team, I think there might be a certain look that we all established over a long period of time. And then when I see someone on my team breaking that, that’s when it’s always a fun surprise, because it’s so easy to fall into a Rick Owens uniform in my world. And then when people on my team break away from that and twist it, it’s always a delight.

And it’s a delight just because I know what it took them to do this. While someone on the street, I don’t understand what their aesthetic journey has been; they are fully formed for me. I see the story and it’s great, whatever it is. I’m happy to see them responding to whatever I put out there.

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