Rick Owens on the corruption of the classics
To date, Rick Owens has âcorruptedâ, as he puts it, several iconic shoe brands, infusing his oddness into the safe and reliable designs of Birkenstock, Dr. Martens, Adidas and Converse. But the bribery of one man is the highly marketable collaboration of another brand, and Mr. Owens has come to appreciate these partnerships.
He used to roll his eyes at them until he learned, after years of working in isolation, that collaborations are “a great way to meet new people,” he said. He now seems to be having a lot of fun.
âBeing able to bribe something pure like that is pretty delicious,â he said. âAnd when I say corrupt, I mean it affectionately. I polish something they have that exists and resize things. It does not corrupt maliciously. It’s teasing. “
Last week, Mr Owens announced his second collaboration with Converse: TURBOWPN, his version of his Weapon sneaker, originally released in 1986. (His first collaboration, the TURBODRK Chuck 70, which added a pentagram and tip pointy bob, among other things, to the classic Chuck Taylor All Star, was featured during his menswear show in Venice in January.)
Here, Mr Owens explains how he approaches each new ‘corruption’, his love for the Ramones and the kind of collaboration he will never do.
For something like this, where to start? By completely deconstructing whatever element you’re working on?
I start by asking them, âWhat are your limits? “I don’t want to spend a lot of time chasing this idea if I find out that this mold is going to cost 10 million euros. I need to know the technical limitations and the legal limitations. What can I legally distort and what is too far?
I like to distort things architecturally, in a more profound way than adding a print or decoration on top. I like to disrupt the very foundation of the product they make.
Many of the products that you misrepresent are very recognizable iconic pieces. With Converse, did you have any kind of emotional attachment? Did you wear Chuck Taylor when you were a kid?
I wasn’t cool enough when I was a kid.
I doubt it a bit.
No, no, of course I did. We have all done it. Anyone who wanted to look like the Ramones. And the Ramones were my style idols. They still are, in a way. I associate Converse a lot with the Ramones, and that’s what makes Converse look like a symbol of the scrappy outsider to a lot of people.
Their gaze was so accessible. Some of the guys were pretty cute – they weren’t the prettiest, but they had the right hair, they had the right thinness, they had the right languor, they had an element of danger. And the music was very cartoonish. The lyrics are very simple yet simple in such a perfect Japanese ikebana flower arrangement – like a haiku. They are like a punk haiku.
You have been inspired by the Ramones for a very long time.
There are certain things in place when you go into creative fulfillment, when you are at an age where you start to recognize what attracts you, creatively, that stays with you all of your life.
We all have a moodboard in our heads of everything that has started to affect us aesthetically at some point. And the Ramones were really a part of it, when I started collecting all my amulets, symbols and ideas that would come together to become my little personal religion.
But I am very conscious of not staying in the past. I’m always on the lookout for the new Ramones. When I see music now, I’m like, ‘You guys don’t shock me enough. I want you to hit me in the face.
On your last runway show in January, you put your new Chuck Taylors on the catwalk, right next to those huge thick leather thigh high boots. They are different looks. What do you think is the connective tissue between these shoes?
I warped these sneakers to have the same toe cap as my platform boots, so I aligned them architecturally. But other than that, they are both symbols of the youthful rebellion of the past.
If I think of the Ramones as 70s CBGB, I also think of the platform boots from one of my other favorite bands, Kiss. So Kiss and the Ramones, they’re totally in the same world for me. That kind of flamboyance and breathlessness and adventure seeking, I think that’s how it fits into my world – or what I was trying to do with this show.
In a partnership or collaboration, is there something that is, for example, an absolute ânoâ for you?
I don’t like the cheap. Like when the designers were doing H&M and Zara, and I don’t mean to be rude, but I felt like it was a bummer.
When it comes to brands that make disposable clothes quick, that bothers me, and I would stay away from that because disposable is what’s wrong with our world today.
Someone might very well say, you know, that the inexpensive things I did with these collaborations are disposable too. But these are iconic types of designs that aren’t disposable. Some of these big, fast brands get rid of ideas so voraciously. That’s all I’m trying not to do.
So yes, there are some companies that I would really avoid. But don’t worry, they’re not calling me anyway.
This interview, initially conducted on Instagram, has been edited and condensed.