Sitting against a grey background splashed with hints of Art Nouveau decor, designer Rick Owens dialled in from his home in Concordia, Italy, where he has spent most of his time during Covid-19 lockdowns. 11 Kate Middleton looks inspired by Princess Diana “It was a weird period, because we’ve all been with a global crisis, which made us think, very internally and introspectively,” he says. “Everybody has kind of been going through something so epic, which has made us all internalise and think about our most intimate relationships, our most satisfying relationships and things closer to home.” The California-born and Paris-based designer, famous for his signature long dark hair, has held his past three seasons’ shows at Venezia di Lido, close to his Italian team and factory, rather than his usual Palais de Tokyo venue. “We needed to improvise a little bit on how we were moving forward in reaction to the coronavirus, the depravations and limitations,” says Owens. Appropriately, the autumn/winter 2021 fashion show on the waterfront in Venice had a gloomy, foggy atmosphere that hinted at apocalypse. Both the men’s and women’s shows were titled Gethsemane, after the garden outside Jerusalem mentioned in the Bible’s verse Mark 14 as the scene of the agonies and arrest of Jesus. K-drama’s top 10 male luxury brand ambassadors, from Hyun Bin to Gong Yoo The shows were held in January and March 2021 respectively, channelling the same noir aesthetics. Dressed largely monochromatically, in black, white or dark purple, the models were universally masked. Deconstructed silhouettes, exaggerated shoulders, puff jackets with ruptured sleeves and over-the-knee boots were juxtaposed, no matter how much they clashed. Men strode in high platform heels as did the women. Way before gender fluidity became a buzzword in luxury fashion, attendees at Owens’ fashion shows embodied diversity, gender-bending, self-expression and norm-challenging. Owens championed and even helped foster much of the terminology. “I’m not quite sure why gender fluidity gained so much traction recently, because it’s been done. It’s been done harder and stranger,” notes the designer. “I’ve always really admired and championed people who were uncomfortable with the way they were and made a resolve to change it, for better or for worse. It takes a certain amount of strength of character to decide you’re not satisfied with something and then change it and to change it flamboyantly and ferociously and spectacularly. That just really impressed me. So I’ve always had a certain amount of transsexualism … it’s always kind of in my story somewhere.” It takes a certain amount of strength of character to decide you’re not satisfied with something and then change it Rick Owens In today’s largely commercialised luxury fashion industry, Owens – like Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and Maison Margiela – has accumulated a cult following who sometimes distinguish themselves as the “anti-fashion tribe”. Unlike most other brands, Owens rarely uses celebrity endorsements , though heavyweight stars like Rihanna, Adele and Timothée Chalamet have sported Rick Owens on the street and on red carpets. This singular, gothic and often artistic approach has even earned him the nickname “The Lord of Darkness”. “Anybody that creates anything is just creating new compositions of things that have existed before. We’re all creating something, we’re all creating our own personal works of art in ourselves. So you just build up a library in your head of all of your favourite influences, and you prepare it like an omelette, you just add a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and you end up with something. And if you do that often enough, you end up finding your own voice. And I think that is pretty much how it works for everybody,” explains Owens. Trend watch: what the well-dressed woman will have on her feet this winter Verging on modern art, his works have been exhibited in museums and galleries, including Paris’s Musée National d’Art Moderne in the Pompidou Centre, as well as his furniture designs at The Museum of Contemporary Art in LA. “Art is supposed to be some kind of transcendent moment. Fashion has sometimes done that. Fashion today has to respond to an audience so much more quickly than it ever had to and more quickly than art has to respond to an audience. So fashion has, I think, become more relevant to people’s needs and people’s desires, and people’s urgency for transcendent moments. I think fashion has exceeded art’s power in this generation. Maybe I will [get there] someday, but I am just not there yet. I might look back on my life one day and think of it as a performance,” Owens says. In recent years, the designer has partnered with high street brands including Dr. Martens, Adidas, Veja and Birkenstock. His most recent design for Converse, dubbed Drkstar, and following on the heels of Turbodrk, marks a reconstruction of the classic Chuck Taylor 70 trainers. “I used to get impatient with designers talking about the magic of curb collaboration when really it’s just all about hype and money. I always used to dismiss the idea of a collaborative world. My eyes just think it’s just a hype and money machine ,” says the designer candidly. But experiments in the space have opened up different perspectives for Owens, who connects his former attitude with being a reclusive designer focusing on survival. Meet Chen Man, the artist who just sparked debate with her Dior photo in China “Once I felt confidence that my survival was fairly established, I was able to look around and engage with other people, and doing it professionally like this has been really fun. You get to see how other people run their businesses. You work with people that are strong and powerful at what they do. And they have achieved a certain level of expertise and refinement. And so it’s a very interesting dynamic and I’ve been enjoying it and I intend to do it more. It brings a breath of fresh air to my basement and to my corner of the world, and I feel like I’m engaging more and fulfilling some kind of potential circulating current,” he says. Stepping into the wholesale realm of trainers, the designer admits that there is a risk that some of his clan will be disappointed that he is getting too commercial. “But you gotta move forward. You have to grow and you have to expand and you have to explore. You can just rest on your past triumphs and successes. You have to take risks,” he explains. Owen’s most recent spring/summer 2022 homecoming show in Paris in September, opened by his life and business partner, as well as eternal muse, Michèle Lamy, struck a more promising and positive note. In contrast to the usual apocalyptic tumult of his shows, Owens, who turned 60 this November, says his own life is quite the opposite: non-chaotic, controlled and very sedate. “I used to enjoy the romance of losing control,” he says. “Then after I did that for a while, I became attracted to the romance of having control. And they’re both fantasies. My whole control thing is a total fantasy because it has something to do with trying to hold on to immortality and youth or something that inevitably is doomed. We all get to live our fantasies.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .