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Rick Owens: “I never had that much to lose”

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Rick Owens
Photo by Sven Schumann
Short Profile

Name: Richard Saturnino Owens
DOB: 18 November 1962
Place of Birth: Porterville, California, USA
Occupation: Fashion Designer

Mr. Owens, are you an easy person to live with?

It’s hard for somebody to live with me, I think. I’m very inflexible and that can’t be easy. There are times when I put up a wall and I say, “This is what I want and I’m not going to debate it or negotiate it,” and I know that that must be unpleasant. If I were living with me, I would get sick and tired of it always being about Rick Owens this, Rick Owens that.

So how does your wife Michele deal with that?

Michele has learned how to define her space, and that’s kind of great. She has a very strong personality and very strong opinions, so for me to push her on things… you can imagine the fireworks! What’s funny is that we’ll be in the middle of something heated, and we just look at each other and all of a sudden we recognize this whole thing we’re doing. We can kind of laugh, like, “We know where this is going” and we can figure it out in a different way. It’s great when we have those moments. But it’s delicate.

I was surprised to hear that you had been married to your wife for 20 years even though before that you mainly dated men. Usually it happens the opposite way around.

I don’t know... I’ve always been really open about this because it’s very easy for someone to say, “I used to see him in sex clubs in the ’80s and now he pretends he’s straight?” So the idea of pretending I’m straight is ridiculous. I need to get that out of the way. The other thing is that I love the idea that there are bad role models and good role models. Presumably, I would be a bad role model but I think for someone…

Why would you be a bad role model? I don’t think so.

I think my father does. Talk to my father! (Laughs) Anyway, I think the idea of me telling anybody a message is ridiculous, but if anyone is paying attention, I’m letting people know that the possibilities are endless. You can open your heart to love anybody. You can be available to more people than you think. There are no rules. You don’t have to be just gay. You don’t have to be just straight. Open your mind! You might not be able to be gay with most people, but maybe there’s one person where it would work. So, it’s not a big wide sweeping general rule… It’s not just about sex. It’s all of that whole combination of things that make it work.

“A lot of people could be designers. It’s easy to have inspiration and a vision, but if you don’t have the execution it doesn’t matter.”

What role does Michele play in your work?

She is part of the spirit. I think people assume that she is maybe the Pierre Berge – if we’re thinking in legendary Yves Saint Laurent terms – but I think maybe she’s more of the Catherine Deneuve character of that legend. She has great inspiration and great vision. It’s not like she’s in the office every day on the computer, she’s out in the world, researching, and bringing me things back. It’s almost like an ephemeral role. It can be so hard to define.

Like a muse?

Muses… That word is like a “fag hag.” I always introduce her as my better half because I think that’s such a great way of putting it. I don’t really know where one of us ends or the other begins. It’s more profound than a business partner. We would be having a beautifully aesthetic life whether this was successful or not, it’s just that we’ve somehow made it public and sold it and so people recognize it. But it would have been great anyway. She’s a great person to be poor with because we’ve been poor together! We could live in a car together and it would be really fun. But Michele doesn’t see a collection until that day.

Why not?

If Michele’s looked at something and frowned, if she didn’t respond the way I wanted, it would totally fuck me up. I can’t! I can’t engage her. For better or for worse: I have to decide. You want to engage somebody that you’re so intimate with, but you have to keep them at a distance at the same time. It’s an odd little balance. There are probably some relationships that thrive on discussion and a lot more collaboration, and I wish I could, but I’ve learned that no matter how much I want to, I can’t. It’s like… I can’t learn French. You just can’t force yourself. For everybody’s benefit I better just do my job quietly in a little corner like I do.

I guess everybody has to figure out their own balance. There’s not really a formula for these kinds of things.

Relationships are compromises. She gravitated towards the fur when we first moved to Paris and then when we started doing the furniture, coordinating the artisans to do the furniture, and she turned that into this big thing. Between the fur and furniture, getting all that stuff done, it’s this whole world that I never would have done on my own. In this house, I have a bathroom that is perfect, that is a refuge. I have a marble toilet, I have this whole area that is perfect the way that I want it. I have my office the way I want it; everything is resolved. Everything else, I don’t care. Everything else is fine by me. It’s a tremendous release. I can’t control everything.

But with your design process, you can control everything. What does that look like?

I just work from images of things on a mannequin and I’m looking at proportions and then I print them out and cut them up and re-proportion them and add lines. The initial design process is that.

Rick Owens Spring 2014 Womenswear. The show features four teams of American sororities, performing stepping, a hybrid of step dancing, cheerleading, and military drill.

You don’t sketch?

Sketches are pretty, but they’re too unrealistic. I don’t think I ever really sketched. It isn’t my thing. One of the reasons is because there’s just something too cliché about fashion sketching. I went to art school to be a painter, so I have this standard image that I think is the standard of art and I think a fashion sketch would be too superficial. And cheap. It just seems corny. It’s not a necessary step. It’s just like this fantasy. It’s like collages. I have this thing against making collages of inspirations and stuff.

Why?

Just get to the point! It’s just an unnecessary step that is not really true. It’s just superficial, it’s not technical. It’s just kind of masturbation. It’s just jacking off. Get a step closer to actually realizing it instead of having some kind of fantasy about it. Just do it instead of talking about it so much. I look at my own work and what seems to be the most true expression and I think, “How do I go a step beyond that?” I guess that’s my process. But… All of these things that I say about process, you know I’m a fraud, right? I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing! I can tell you all these things about how I do it, but I just don’t know.

You know what you want and you follow that. A lot of people don’t have that confidence.

I really learned not to think about what other people like. The other thing I’ve learned recently is not to look at sales reports. I used to, but if I had listened to sales reports at the beginning, I would have given up on things that are some of our biggest successes now, like shoes. So sales reports are not the answer. The other thing is I really don’t have to do anything I don’t want to. And I have to remind myself of this sometimes. This isn’t a job, it’s not like I’m going to lose my job if I don’t get the results I want.

I guess you’re over that hump by now.

There’s no boss to answer to!

I’m sure you have been approached by big conglomerates to be part of their company…

Yeah, but I never had that much to lose, so it was never a risk to stay on my own. There were opportunities where I thought, you know, “If I do this, I could retire tomorrow.” But I don’t want to retire! It’s tempting, you know. You’re offered a lot of money and you’re thinking, “Maybe I’m never going to get offered this much again.” It’s hard. “Am I going to regret this later?” But being offered that amount of money is a surprise, I never expected it, so if I don’t take it now, it’s not going to change my life either. Any time anybody wants 51% of your company…

They have a reason for it.

Exactly, there’s a reason for that one percent. The whole game of 51%, it’s so ominous. That one percent. I’d rather they ask for 80% and give me more money! (Laughs) But I have fantastic partners. I have a CEO and a Sales Director who are so protective, who have even more integrity than I do. I’m a whore! Buyers have come to me and I’ve said, “Okay, that sounds great!” And then my CEO and my Sales Director call me down and say, “You know, if you do this, it’ll burn us out too fast. You should think about that.” They’re not afraid of sticking to our guns and having a very refined, confident approach. I’m incredibly lucky because that’s what it takes.

You need people that protect you.

Not only protect, but develop. It’s impossible to do this kind of thing alone. There’s a lot of people that could be designers, a lot of people have great ideas, but it’s the execution. It’s easy to have inspiration and have a vision and an aesthetic, but if you don’t have the execution and you don’t get it out there properly and on time, it doesn’t matter. It’ll sink. I really don’t overestimate my role in this. Getting it out there, and on time, that’s key. I’m very lucky about that. And I get to take all the credit.