Is Rick Owens the designer of our generation?

Is Rick Owens the designer of our generation?

by Juliette Eleuterio
8 min

For his Fall/Winter 2021 collection “GETHSEMANE,” Rick Owens held his show away from his usual Palais de Tokyo location, opting for the Tempio Votivo del Lido near his Venetian home, in large part due to the travel restrictions and lockdown laws during the pandemic. Many critics describe this collection as safe, lacking that Owensified fashion-forward element the American designer seldom fails to deliver.

Though hardly a harsh critique, those who formed that opinion weren’t necessarily wrong. It was Owens’ intention to keep it toned down in comparison to his past collections, believing that this was not a time to show excess in fashion, with other issues more pressing, such as that of the global health emergency. 

His show notes summed this up perfectly: “We’re all living a tense period in history waiting for a resolution, be it catastrophic or rational, in a suspense that feels almost Biblical in its drama.” Yet, despite it being a restrained collection, it was still strong, on-brand and left everyone with the general consensus that even when Rick Owens is ‘bad,’ it’s still very good.

The hold Rick Owens has on both the fashion industry and the general public is unprecedented. Wearing Rick Owens transports you to an ulterior universe that is so detached from any other operating brand – a universe that has been carefully carved out by one man and his muses. 

When describing Rick Owens’ aesthetic, words like proto-punk, “glunge” (a merge of glam and grunge), dystopian, dark, and post-apocalyptic are often thrown around. And while these words may be true visually, there is more to the essence of a Rick Owens runway creation than buzzwords. 

For his Fall/Winter 2018 “SISYPHUS” show, Owens depicted the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus by the way of down-stuffed lumpy garments, hinting at the giant boulder that eternally needs to be carried up a hill (a tortuous theme very much present in the fashion industry and and its high-demand of constant renewal), as well as looking at unconventional seduction.

Rick Owens’ designs explore themes of the macabre, outlying a uniform that looks like it could have come from an asylum’s creative workshop. On the contrary, witnessing a Rick Owens show never leaves you gloomy, but rather in awe of the beauty that a non-traditional route to aesthetics can offer.

References to classic and Biblical literature and art are a common thread to the Rick Owens universe. This can be traced back to Owens’ formative years, as he was homeschooled by his father who taught him about art, literature and philosophy to an extent that wouldn’t be covered in a public school’s curriculum.

While deeply enriching, this education was also very limiting, with Owens’ father being strict about what kind of art was allowed to be consumed in the family home. For example, only classical music was allowed to be played in the household, though Owens quickly found an affinity for punk-rock. In a sense, the Rick Owens brand both refers to and rebels against his childhood, and more specifically, his father.

The designer’s collections feel personal without being literal. His inspirations such as the alt musical acts The Ramones or The Stooges doesn’t come in the form of a graphic band tee, but rather in intricate clothing that embodies the core values and beliefs of the source point.

On a business and operational level, this personal touch remains intact. The Rick Owens brand, unlike many of Fashion Week’s biggest brands, hasn’t been bought by a conglomerate. It operates under OWENSCORP, the company he set up with his partner Michèle Lamy in 2004 after moving to Paris.

This not only allows the designer to retain his creative control but also to do things differently to your average brand. Visually, it’s clear to see. He doesn’t rely on logos or monograms to create an it product that will sell, but instead focuses on codes such as his elongated beige drawstrings or his five-inch Kiss Boots that are instantly recognizable as part of his avant-garde realm, without necessitating the Rick Owens logo.

He also writes his own show notes, which are extensive in reference and design explanations, and are always made available to the public. He doesn’t dress anyone for his shows, yet his attendees are always wearing Rick Owens – or at least something that feels relevant to the Rick Owens vein. The personal dedication poured into this brand by the designer is clearly reflected by the dedication, loyalty and passion of its dedicated cult.

It’s one thing to be obsessed with the Rick Owens brand, but it’s another to be enthralled by Rick Owens, the man. Kiss Boots-wearing, muscle-showing, tank top-sporting, the long dark-haired designer is striking just by looks, though is nothing compared to his eloquently-spoken thoughts that reveal his raw talent and intellect.

rick owens Michele Lamy SS22

In a piece for Vestoj’s “In Masculinities,” Owens said: “I’ve always wanted to participate in the world, to be involved […]. Fashion is popular because it’s a mystery. It’s the ebb and flow of the subtle things we propose as designers, and that people respond to like flocks of birds turning all of a sudden in the middle of the sky.” And flocked the people have.

He also went on to state he’s “not really interested in clothes,” and that “what I wear is a logical answer to the way I live and what I need to do.” Rick Owens only wears Rick Owens. Obviously.

Fashion and clothing for Owens is just one avenue of his creativity. As any Rick stan will know, “multi-disciplinary artist and gym trainer” would be a more adequate title for him, considering his artistic ventures. Sculpture, furniture designer, and overall gallerist artist; there is no limit to his creativity.

His non-fashion creations are another extension to the Rick Owens universe, aligned with his fashion label. Brutalist, monolithic and described by the designer as “luxe minimalism,” his artworks also have a certain uniform look. Earlier this year, Rick Owens collaborated with Moncler for its London-based “The Art Of Genius” event. Instead of producing the obvious fashion collection, the designer opted for a custom-made spaceship-type enclosed futuristic sarcophagus, pushing the boundaries between art, design and technology, and showing us an innovative way to collaborate. 

Rick Owens is a life philosophy. It’s the very reason he offers his diffusion line DRKSHDW, entry-level essentials, elevated ready-to-wear, runway garments, and then a €200,000 Alabaster bed. In doing so, Owens shares his interpretation of life’s many layers, as well as his own way of living, from how he chooses to decorate his living space to how he dresses, showing us the way he sees the world. 


And the designer’s world is impressive in its own right, and its loyal subjects are equally notable. We’ve got to give it to them – Rick stans are on another level. The subReddit r/RickOwens offers daily updates on the designer, new pickups, and fit checks. The Rick Owens x Converse collaborative shoe is one of the biggest memes on Internet fashion hubs (mainly showing frustration that the general public won’t recognise they are Rick Owens). There’s the Internet famous couple who met over Instagram when one approached the other to compliment them on their Rick fit. Let’s be real, if your fans call you the “Lord of Darkness,” you know you’re doing something right.

There is something so endearing about rebellious anti-beauty that is still celebrated as beautiful, a perspective that goes against the status quo. Rick Owens isn’t the first designer to do so (Martin Margiela, Vivienne Westwood, Ann Demeulemeester, the wave of Japanese fashion designers such as Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe, just to name a few) and he certainly won’t be the last – but he is the current.

Of course, when it comes to fashion, taste will always be subjective. There will never be a consensus name to nominate as “best designer.” There are always certain attributes to look for in a “good” designer, such as quality of garments, consistency in brand image, and a story to tell or a message to say. Incidentally, Rick Owens hits all of those.

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