RICK OWENS The early years 1994–2002: From Hollywood Boulevard to New York Fashion Week

By Adri­an Glass

Rick Owens first run­way show was staged at New York Fash­ion Week in 2002 of his self titled goth­ic inspired “glundge” styles, it was a spon­sored show by Vogue mag­a­zine in cel­e­brat­ing Owens as an emerg­ing design­er from Los Ange­les and his dis­tinct take on 1990s grunge fash­ion, infused with Owens fas­ci­na­tion of 1970s epi­cure­an glam­our. He was 41 at the time. To look at this ret­ro­spec­tion of the famed avant-garde design­er, is also an attempt, despite what might appear to be an unin­tend­ed ambi­gu­i­ty, which maybe a con­scious or an uncon­scious his­to­ry of dis­ar­ray. It is Owens trade mark styles, with his accen­tu­a­tion and unique abil­i­ty to over­lay fits into a dark ensem­ble, which in turn clev­er­ly por­trays his craft­ed and exclu­sive reduc­tion of styles; from asym­met­ri­cal cuts to skin tight looks, the aes­thet­ics on dis­play reflects the sin­gled mind­ed ded­i­ca­tion that Owens has in for­mu­lat­ing his col­lec­tions. Owens Fall 2002 Ready-To-Wear debut offers a slight his­toric glimpse into the Rick Owens con­tin­u­um, a show that was sole­ly direct­ed towards his faith­ful buy­ers, loy­al fan base and more impor­tant­ly the niche avant-garde cloth­ing mar­ket. To which Owens had, over the years, clev­er­ly mould­ed in build­ing up his brand to become a for­mi­da­ble tem­plate in light of his first RTW col­lec­tion. This was no overnight sen­sa­tion, nor a star pupil of a renown fash­ion school break­ing into the indus­try. Owens had been work­ing tire­less­ly since 1994, eight years pri­or to the 2002 show­ing, on his name­sake label and here lies the man­i­fes­ta­tion of a tale filled with an intrigu­ing nar­ra­tive that is Owens first arrival onto the L.A. fash­ion scene – all set with­in his care­ful­ly timed and orches­trat­ed plays, that you would expect from the shrewd design­er. From his ini­tial begin­nings, Owens has been able to main­tain an uncom­pro­mis­ing integri­ty of his sig­na­ture label, which stands today as one of the last of the big­ger inde­pen­dent fash­ion brands.

After fin­ish­ing school in the mid 1980s, Owens went onto to study at the Otis Col­lege of Art and Design in Los Ange­les, after a brief stint of just two years, he dropped out. He then went onto to study at the L.A. Trade Tech­ni­cal Col­lage as a pat­tern cut­ter, to which he com­plet­ed his stud­ies in the ear­ly 90’s. In an attempt at try­ing to find suit­able employ­ment and aware of the ‘knock offs’ of design­er leather goods, Owens was able to work with ‘Kore­an’ (based in L.A.) imi­ta­tion lux­u­ry retail­ers, cut­ting pat­terns for the fake design­er prod­ucts from the icon­ic fash­ion hous­es of Europe. There is an irony in all of this, more so the fact that Owen­s’s start was specif­i­cal­ly cen­tred around his L.A. street art­ful­ness, in this unortho­dox entry into the fash­ion world, in so many ways reflects his own icon­o­clas­tic and at times, ambi­gu­i­ty. Yet, this is Owens as a self cre­at­ed icon, with roots firm­ly set with­in the 1990s of Los Ange­les. In a pre-dig­i­tal inter­con­nect­ed world, were entre­pre­neuri­al­ism was seen as a giv­en, for the many who had hopes and dreams of becom­ing the next big thing, for Owens the 90’s res­onat­ed a pos­si­bil­i­ty of con­fig­ur­ing his take on gothic/grunge and glam­our envi­sioned styles, turn­ing them into a viable prod­uct. A unique­ly Owens Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard sto­ry, that mir­rors a roman­tic sur­re­al­ism, as a vis­i­ble par­tic­i­pant of the L.A. night­club scene, to which Owens fre­quent­ed the city’s many under­ground clubs, where he met the enig­mat­ic and cre­ative entre­pre­neur Michèle Lamy.

Rock Owens and Michèle Lamy.

A Hol­ly­wood dar­ling for the many celebri­ties that attend­ed her two cafe­te­rias in L.A. through­out the late 90’s, Lamy her­self was no native to the glam­orous West Coast scene, she was born in Paris in 1944, who left France for Amer­i­ca in the 1970s, she quick­ly became a recog­nis­able fig­ure of the New York City ‘Stu­dio 54’ years, mov­ing to Los Ange­les in late 70’s, she began to immerse her­self with­in the art, cin­e­ma and fash­ion indus­try of L.A., where she met her first hus­band and busi­ness part­ner Richard New­ton, the exper­i­men­tal artist and film-mak­er. The cru­cial ele­ment in the Rick Owens suc­cess sto­ry is Lamy’s firm imprint she and her first hus­band had at the time, over the L.A. club and fash­ion scene. When she cre­at­ed her fash­ion line Lamy in 1990, she hired Owens, who was intro­duced to Lamy by Owen­s’s then boyfriend, as her new busi­ness part­ner to assist in design­ing the col­lec­tions, to which they became a cou­ple soon after. Lamy sub­se­quent­ly fold­ed her label in the mid nineties to focus on the Le Deux café which was sit­u­at­ed on a park­ing lot behind the famous Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard, after buy­ing a dilap­i­dat­ed for­mer ‘crack house’ for $5,000 and set­ting it down onto the vacant car park. In a true reflec­tion of Lamy’s eccen­tric­i­ty, she recre­at­ed a French inspired café with­in its Amer­i­can urban sur­re­al­i­ty. When Owens begin to work on debut­ing his sig­na­ture brand in 1994, Lamy quick­ly became his muse wear­ing and rep­re­sent­ing the lay­ered and goth­ic looks, whilst she con­tin­ued run­ning the celebri­ty hot spot. It would be the now defunct avant-garde Charles Gal­lay bou­tique on Sun­set Boule­vard, that was once run by Madeleine and Charles Gal­lay, known to be exclu­sive retail­ers for the Hol­ly­wood elite. With the pro­pri­etor Charles Gal­lay buy­ing large selec­tions of Owens designs, being the first to pro­vide finan­cial sup­port, it also show­cased this new design­er from L.A. to the young rich trend set­ters. Owens first sell to a Los Ange­les bou­tique paid off, as the larg­er store Max­field took note, soon becom­ing a more sub­stan­tial buy­er, which con­tin­ues to this day, of the Rick Owens label. Lamy’s Le Deux café was shelved after issues she had in 1997 of the actu­al ‘house’ col­laps­ing and the ris­ing costs of main­tain­ing the endeav­our. In the final years of the 90’s a switch occurred with Owens lead­ing the cre­ative helm of his brand with Lamy, his soon-to-be-wife, over­see­ing the busi­ness deal­ings. Yet, what might seem to be a rever­sal of for­tunes, was bal­anced equal­ly on the cou­ple’s inter­est of the hedo­nis­tic, Lamy maybe the enchant­i­ng Goth­ic like char­ac­ter with her pletho­ra of con­tacts and Owens the edgy design­er who flirts with obliv­ion — how­ev­er L.A. regard­less of the roman­ti­cism is noto­ri­ous for chew­ing up and spit­ting out the ide­al­ist, with or with­out that taste for fame. To which Owens was quot­ed in an arti­cle, “…I was going to make beau­ti­ful things and live in glam­orous squalor on Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard and die the hero for hav­ing stuck to my vision and not com­pro­mised.”

Kate Moss by Corinne Day

How­ev­er, obliv­ion did not beck­on and Owens and Lamy set forth to rein­state a next chap­ter for the new cen­tu­ry which began via a pho­to­graph­ic edi­to­r­i­al for Vogue France in 2001, with Kate Moss adorn­ing a Rick Owens leather jack­et. Pho­tographed by the late Corinne Day, the image caught the atten­tion of Vogue edi­tor in chief Anna Win­tour, who, organ­ised to spon­sor Owens Fall/Winter 2002 run­way show for New York Fash­ion Week.

In 2013 Rick Owens and Michèle Lamy left Los Ange­les and relo­cat­ed to Paris, form­ing a part­ner­ship com­pa­ny called Owen­scorp and in 2006 they got mar­ried.