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Jan 17, 2024

Why on earth is Rick Owens the beyond-human designer we need?

The onset of a new fashion month sparks a familiar whirlwind tour for insiders, ensuring they catch every standout show of the season. Within their meticulously organised agendas, featuring the printed FW24 menswear runway schedules, the industry’s hot names—whose public relations representatives must be tactfully prompted to secure a coveted front-row seat—are prominently marked with the distinct hue of Peach Fuzz. Among these creative souls, one designer consistently reigns supreme in the rankings when it comes to the distinguished figures of Paris Fashion Week: the visionary talent Rick Owens.

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Un post condiviso da RICK OWENS ONLINE (@rickowensonline)

Owens’ fashion, unveiled four times a year on the grand stage of the City of Lights for both men and women, transcends the immediate and mundane. His gothic wardrobe is consistently characterised by an element of ‘monstrosity,’ featuring peculiar exaggerations, intricate drapery and textile manipulations, and daring alterations to the natural proportions of the body. As Alexander Fury aptly noted in The New York Times, “When people wear them head to toe, as Owens’s most enthusiastic followers frequently do, they don’t look human. They look other.” 

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So, what do people wearing Rick Owens look like? Subhuman. Inhuman. Superhuman. These three words, which greeted visitors at the entrance to the Rick Owens 20-year retrospective at the Triennale in Milan in 2017, encapsulate the most fitting description of Rick Owens’ creative career and spiritual world.


Subhuman: The Tension Between Rigor and Darkness

‘Subhuman’ serves as the primary wellspring of inspiration and spiritual desire for the fashion visionary icon Rick Owens. In the early stages of his career, Owens merged otherworldly imagination with a dark, unsettling ambience in his designs. Even in his latest works, his pieces continue to accentuate lines, proportions, and silhouettes, prioritising pure texture, loose tailoring, and a monochromatic palette, harmonising symmetry with asymmetry.

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Since the beginning, Owens’ creations have constituted a dark carnival, engaging in dynamic tension with order. Reflecting a sense of structural identity, Owens’s wardrobe simultaneously embodies rebellion, radicalism, and immersion in the realm of gothic minimalism—shattering traditional aesthetics and revealing an intensely avant-garde facet.


Inhuman: An Explosion of Controlled Desire

Perfectionism was once a source of anguish for Rick Owens, but it also endowed him with the ability to self-discipline and introspect. In this phase, Owens injected primitive power into fashion design, encapsulated in his coined term ‘glunge’—a fusion of ‘grunge’ and ‘glamour.’

His desire was potent, expressing both the simultaneous urge to destroy and an obsession with repairing damage and rebuilding order—a pursuit of control and power. The dichotomy of cruelty and elegance and beauty and ugliness no longer succumbed to societal pressures and public opinion but began instead to be governed by Owens through his internal struggles.

Establishing his clothing brand in 1994, it initially found favour among subculture enthusiasts in Los Angeles. Machine-washed leather jackets, ripped cashmere T-shirts, frayed hoodies—these eccentric elements resonated with the self-expression of underground subculture groups, forming the foundation of Rick Owens’ early following. Notably, controversial pop stars like Courtney Love were profoundly drawn to his style. 

The brand’s turning point occurred in 2002 when Vogue America sponsored his inaugural show at New York Fashion Week, significantly expanding awareness and garnering recognition from fashion icons such as Madonna and Kate Moss.


Superhuman: A Way to Overcome Yourself

After rising to fame, Rick Owens entered the third stage of creation, known as ‘Superhuman,’ where he began expressing his personality freely and challenging aesthetics and concepts in his unique way. He started integrating reflections and critiques of social reality into his designs, addressing issues such as consumerism, environmental pollution, and racial and gender discrimination. Owens demonstrated a keen understanding of using impactful and infectious expressions to provoke thought and awareness. 

During this period, Owens discovered the power of fashion design as a vehicle to explore the world, incorporating elements from various cultural backgrounds, such as avant-garde music, street culture, and the hippie spirit, into his subsequent works. Beneath the dark aesthetics and apocalyptic atmosphere lies Owens’ desire to expand boundaries. 

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His career boasts significant accomplishments. BoF notes, ‘The designer has been honoured by the CFDA twice, first with the Perry Ellis Award for Emerging Talent in 2002 after his debut catwalk show in New York, and again in 2017 with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.’ Other accolades include the Cooper-Hewitt Design Award for Fashion Design and the Fashion Group International’s Rule Breaker Award, both bestowed upon him in 2007.

Rick Owens’ brand value is not only reflected in sales and honorary awards; the brand’s contribution to the development of fashion design and social responsibility stands as a significant milestone.


Michèle Lamy: The Anti-Muse

There is no doubt that Rick Owens has a muse perfectly matched with him—Michèle Lamy, a French fashion designer, performer, and film producer who stands as the most relevant brand ambassador.

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Michèle Lamy isn’t just Rick Owens’ wife; she is his perfect partner and a guiding force in the realm of fashion design. Born in Jura, France, in 1944, Lamy, a philosophy student under the postmodern philosopher Gilles Deleuze in the early 1960s, led a diverse life, working as a cabaret dancer and participating in the May 1968 protests in Paris. In the late 1970s, she frequented iconic venues like Studio 54 in New York before moving to Los Angeles in 1979. She relocated to Paris with Rick Owens in the early 2000s. 

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With an extraordinary talent for in-depth exploration in any field, Lamy is truly a maverick at heart. Her complex life experiences have endowed her with a rich soul and profound thinking. From the moment they connected, they started nourishing each other’s souls. Despite differences in personality and concepts between the two, they have achieved a perfect balance.


The Dark Artistry: Infusing Other Brands and Luxury Sectors with Irresistible Darkness

Renowned as the Dark Lord of Fashion, Rick Owens has the unique ability to cast his dark shadow over brands far removed from his own DNA, such as Birkenstock or Veja, Adidas, or Champion, ‘blessing’ their fashion items with his incredible talent. Rick Owens’ brand collaborations have consistently sparked new fashion trends.

One of his most recent successful collaborations is with Moncler, centring around the extension of Moncler’s classic down jacket.

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In 2021, Rick Owens partnered with Dr. Martens, a brand that complemented his Nineties grunge attitude, introducing a bold lacing system for the signature boots and customising the gladiator-inspired Gryphon sandal. 

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That same year saw the launch of the square-toed DRKSTAR Chuck 70, created by Rick Owens in collaboration with Converse. The shoe made its debut during the Rick Owens Fall 2021 fashion show at the Votive Temple of Lido di Venezia.

“I was never a sneaker person, and it’s ironic that’s how I ended up. I just hated the informal and suburban ethos of sneakers,” the designer told WWD—a testimony to his willingness to challenge himself and overcome his own boundaries.

And when it comes to interiors, “Plenty of people don’t realise that Rick Owens creates furniture, as well as fashion, and that he’s done so since 2007,” notes The New York Times’ Alexander Fury. The hard, cold, and rough style gives his designs an architectural quality, utilising materials like concrete and marble. Brutalism is seamlessly combined with his ambitions for minimalism, creating an atmosphere of isolation through parallel and vertical lines.


A Leap into the Present: Rick Owens’ Latest Collections 

“I know I’m commonly referred to as dark. I think, no, I’m just realistic and I’m acknowledging the beauty and horror of the world. There are some people who prefer something more sugar-coated, and that’s fine; I don’t criticise that,” Owens shared with Vogue regarding his Fall 2023 women’s ready-to-wear show.

The initial impression of this collection might easily lead to a misunderstanding: has Rick Owens’ style become gentler and even more vivacious? The dresses and coats resemble doughnuts, with fluffy down filling providing a fairy-tale touch and sequins adorning everything for a hint of sophistication. A bright and breezy atmosphere prevailed. 

However, upon closer inspection of the entire collection, an undercurrent becomes apparent, subtly concealing the dark and extreme rhythm. Owens chose muted tones of lime green, Art Deco pink, and burgundy to adorn the cruel side of dark aesthetics. His intention was to unveil the delicate balance between the beauty and horror of the present world, capturing the essence of joy and fear as inherent facets of our sentiments.


Beyond Human: The Future of Rick Owens

“Beyond Human” is not merely a slogan of defiance. Rick Owens has shifted away from singular self-expression and redirected his focus to the swift transformations enveloping the entire world.

A dive into the aesthetics of Rick Owens.Collage courtesy of IM alumna and graphic designer Constanza Coscia

Fashion design isn’t just a weapon for him; it’s a signal transceiver. Owens can seamlessly integrate sensibility and rationality, translating the expression of atmosphere into conceptual brilliance.



Ji Yanzhu
MA in Fashion Promotion, Communication & Digital Media, Milan