Putting on a Rick Owens t-shirt is all about elevating the mundane. Blurring, if not erasing, the line between the sublime and the basic has always been central not just to how Owens designs, but also to how his clothes wear, how his stores look, and how his customers think. There are fewer things as extravagant as a cashmere t-shirt, but, in a perverse way, there’s hardly anything remotely as functional, versatile, and essential, either. In that light, a 10 pound tome set entirely in thick block type, with enormous images, well over a square foot, and wrapped in a partial dust cover with Owens’ flexing bicep makes perfect sense: it’s a startlingly rigorous exercise in indulgence.
For a self-avowed “wannabe Calvin Klein or Giorgio Armani”, Owens’ own approach to lifestyle has been driven less by commercial demands and more by individual preference. With a sweeping eye that never seems to settle too long on one thing, the book catalogs his idiosyncratic work across womenswear, menswear, furniture, interiors, and even includes glimpses of his life in L.A.’s underground art and gay scene. Few designers can lay claim to such an absolute and total sense of themselves like Owens, even though he admits that showing in Paris was more of a lark than a serious undertaking. But that blithe indifference to the norms of fashion makes his story and his designs utterly compelling: the fashion designer who isn’t, the man who leads the Paris avant-garde while watching margins and budgets, the ex-drug user who sleeps on alabaster. The combination of cashmere with a plain tee doesn’t seem so odd after all.
As with his clothing, a monolithic quality pervades the book; the type, set in as impossible and illegible a fashion imaginable, renders the essays and interviews strewn throughout the book into a solid mass of ink, almost as much of a pleasure (or is it pain?) to stare at as to read. At times, it can be hard to tell when the full-bleed photography is documenting and when it is illustrating Owens’ work, though both highlight the honesty of a man making things in an industry about artifice. Few people will read honesty in what Owens does, given the uninviting and colossal scale of this monograph, but the forbidding presentation offers a clarion call to those seeking more than flashy logos and uncovered skin. In the same way that a Rick Owens leather jacket, with its angular peplums and chunky zippers and fantastic proportions belies its body-enveloping fit and silky lining, this immense archive presents the deep, personal journey of a man within the armored exterior of the world that he has constructed for himself. Of course, committing your own career to paper always smacks of narcissism, but Owens mixes just enough openness with enough obfuscation to make the effort genuine and sincere. You cannot know a man by a t-shirt or a chair a book, but it’s certainly a good place to start.
Rick Owens is printed by Rizzoli and available at fine book retailers worldwide.