Today, brand activations, influencer marketing, and hollow collaborations dominate the marketplace. Fashion houses frantically seek out new means of garnering the attention of the consumer. However, in an industry dominated by commercialism, Rick Owens demonstrates an unyielding commitment to his brutalist values.

Owens does not represent a brand but a far-reaching lifestyle that speaks to his fanbase's unwavering loyalty. Between unstructured sartorial garbs, perturbing sculptural furniture, and some of the most bewildering footwear on the market—it is no wonder why "The Lord of Darkness" is so highly revered.

Born Richard Saturnino Owens, the young designer dropped out of the Otis College of Art and Design to pursue pattern-making and draping courses at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College. During his studies, Owens began cutting patterns that illegally knocked-off designer clothing. This tongue-in-cheek attitude would become a fixture of Owens' brand ethos. In 1994, Owens unveiled his inaugural clothing label selling exclusively to Charles Gallay, the L.A's trailblazing avant-garde boutique operator.

Several years into his design career, Owens met Michelle Lamy through his then-boyfriend, Rick Castro. He worked as a pattern-maker for Lamy starting in 1990, only working for a couple of years before the two began an affair. Together, the tumultuous duo lived a "rock n' roll" lifestyle characterized by the prolific use of drugs and alcohol.

Throughout the mid-90s, Owens produced one-off pieces from recycled leather and salvaged materials from army surplus stores. In 2001, French Vogue published a photo of Kate Moss wearing a signature leather jacket from his Fall/Winter 2001 collection, and one year later, Anna Wintour and Vogue sponsored Owens' first runway show in Spring/Summer 2002.

The Spring/Summer 2003 collection featured several predecessors to Owen's most ubiquitous designs, such as sharp shouldered blazers and early versions of the Pod Short. Owens' cult appeal exploded over the next few years thanks to his unorthodox footwear. The Dustulator Dunk ignited an insatiable desire for Owens' unnerving designs and paved the way for the legendary Geobasket to rupture the sneaker market.

Above all, Owens is celebrated for his ability to blend creative freedom and commercial success seamlessly. DRKSHDW, Owens' diffusion line, began in 2005 to expand the accessibility of his designs. Built around denim and wardrobe staples like hoodies, sweatpants, and bomber jackets, DRKSHDW allows newcomers to become more familiar with the Owens brand without feeling overwhelmed by the brand's mainline tailoring. The diffusion line is perhaps best known for the Ramone model, a converse-like sneaker infamous for introducing the Rick Owens brand to a younger audience.

In 2010, Owens extended his brand into a lifestyle—producing furniture inspired by Eileen Gray and California's skateparks' concrete landscape. His "Prehistoric" collection offered Owens' signature Brutalist oeuvre. The collection consisted of seven pieces using unorthodox materials like ox bone, alabaster, and petrified wood. Owens' most notable designs, however, featured sculptural furniture modeled after the designer himself.

Owens' first bout with mainstream success occurred in 2013 following his inaugural collaboration with Adidas. Owens designed seasonal products for the German stalwart—creating new silhouettes and re-imaging staple designs. Many of the shoes also featured themes that intersected with his mainline collections. The partnership ended in 2017 with Owens joining heritage brand Hood Rubber to re-design its signature Grafton shoe. He has since collaborated with both Veja and Birkenstock.

Unlike many contemporary avant-garde designers, Owens eschews stoicism in favor of an inscrutable sense of humor. Authenticity is dwindling, yet Owens' brutally honest deportment is an odd source of comfort. Amid the volatility and chaos of high-fashion, Rick Owens remains a force to be reckoned with.

Written By Gunner Park

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