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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Raw Power - Rick Owens

(from papermag Dec 06)
It's 11 a.m. on a sunny day in Paris, and 44-year-old designer Rick Owens has just returned from his morning trek with a bag of warm croissants and fresh orange juice. Owens's gargantuan, bunkerlike home and workspace is in two adjoining buildings that once housed the French Socialist Party headquarters. The front building, with pale yellow rooms and molding like wedding-cake icing, is from the 1850s; the rear, sleek and clean five-story structure was built a century later. Owens sits in what used to be Mitterrand's office and displays his collection for Revillon, the label founded in 1723 that he became the designer of four years ago.
He cracks a croissant in half, gulps down some OJ. With his build, Owens, clad in a tight tank top and skinny black jeans from his own line, looks like a younger Iggy Pop -- sinewy and smooth. Long, pin-straight black hair flows over his shoulders. Owens tells me he's a "routine addict." "I have my little triangle," he explains. "Gym. Home. Food. I like the monastic lifestyle, very severe in a way. I like having everything very organized." Yet out of the blue, four years ago, Owens and his kittenish wife, Michele Lamy, the queen of Hollywood's hottest restaurant, Les Deux Caf�s, hightailed it to Paris. They haven't been back to the States since. Owens couldn't resist the Revillon gig.
We walk through a storeroom next door where a wax figure of Owens -- jeans yanked down, holding its willy and peeing -- looms over a rack of Revillon fur pieces. The photo-real figure was sculpted in London by artisans who work for Madame Tussaud's, and made for an event in Florence last January that was sponsored by Fondazione Pitti Discovery. At the exhibit, the Owens mannequin was suspended in midair, a constant stream of faux piss jetting across the space and onto a pile of mirrors. Upstairs, in the 1950s building, we find Lamy. She's in head-to-toe black-and-gray Rick Owens. Her two front teeth are gold plated. I tell her that L.A.'s A-list laments the closing of Les Deux, as regulars called her restaurant. "It brings tears to my eye every single time someone tells me that," she confesses. "We have cafe nights here," Owens interrupts with a wink. "Michele has dinner parties on the terrace. We have the same music. Everyone is passing through Paris all the time. Sometimes it's kind of eerie, all these old faces."
When Owens found the buildings, he tore out the carpeting, stripped the wallpaper and gutted a warren of office cubicles. The result: raw, uneven and mottled concrete floors and Spartan white walls. It's the ideal setting for Owens's men's and women's collections, which are luxe and tailored to fit the body like a glove. The upstairs living area is decked with Owens's furniture line. Influenced by Bauhaus and Art Deco, Owens's square, spare pieces are constructed of plywood, resin and bones, then covered with supple cashmere, mink, and fox fur left over from his collections. In a guest room, a sectional couch-cum-bed is upholstered in green Swiss army blankets that Owens found at a flea market in Naples.
We check out the huge back terrace, which overlooks the grand gardens of the Ministry of Defense, smack next door. This is the spot where Owens and Lamy feel most at home. "It's so great for work," he says. "There are ducks squawking. They come over from the Jardin des Tuileries, the fattest pigeons you've ever seen. They can barely fly. They bend the branches." Owens also spends much of his time in Concordia, Italy, where his collections are produced in a small factory. "It's in the middle of nowhere," he says, grinning. "No McDonald's. No Starbucks." The latest, biggest news is Owens's first shop in the Palais Royal. The flagship carries his signature line, Revillon and the furniture collection, which he claims he started on a whim. "The furniture is an expensive hobby," he says. "But I am completely committed to it."
Outside, smartly uniformed guards patrol the square, which is in the 7th Arrondissement, arguably the most conservative neighborhood in Paris. Video surveillance cameras watch the streets 24/7 like Big Brother. Owens and Lamy definitely stand out against the pruned classic maisons and political figures and dignitaries. It's as if la famille Osbourne moved next door to Queen Elizabeth. "It's a funny contrast from Hollywood Boulevard to this area," Owens says. "This area is like a stage set. There's a severity to it. How ironic it is. But the perversity of it certainly appeals to me."

The numerous showrooms are buzzing with buyers and French and Italian editors bombarding the racks. Owens goes to the kitchen and pours a large cup of coffee. The phones ring constantly. He inhales deeply, his lean chest puffing up, ready to tackle work. A smile creeps onto his angular face. In Rick Owens's world, routine is bliss.

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