Designer Rick Owens is a romantic of the highest order. While his creations display the precision of a master craftsman, his ideas are rooted in nostalgia and fantasy. To showcase the titanic bed, daybed and elements that make up his latest furniture collection,
Pavane for a Dead Princess, he and his wife, Michele Lamy, installed the pieces—which together amount to two tons of alabaster—at New York’s Salon 94. Owens took a load off to talk with us about 30s Hollywood, haiku and artistic monasticism.How did the idea of doing an exhibit based on your own bedroom come about?
I just did the furniture for a one-shot deal when we made it for our house (on the Left Bank in Paris). I showed it for my men’s collection as a background just for fun and then it developed a life of its own. We got involved with the gallery Jousse and Michele said, “We gotta do something for New York. [The gallerists] think we should do the bedroom.” I know that our bedroom has this thing that people respond to when they visit. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it is a lifestyle and it’s personal and it has a romance attached to it. And you’ve elaborated on your own bedroom for this show?
Yes. Because we were coming to New York we needed to rise to the occasion, so I was thinking, “Let’s do something monolithic.” I was working in marble but marble is a little bit too cold. And then I thought, “Alabaster.” There is something mythological and almost biblical about alabaster—it’s so ancient. But also it’s very Art Deco. If it’s good enough for Pierre Chareau, it’s good enough for Rick Owens.What did the preparation for the show involve? Alabaster is heavy!
It was a breeze for me. This is Michele’s baby. Michele and I have such a different way of working. Everything in my factories is done exactly my way and that’s it. In this situation she’s running around town, connecting artisans to one another. But, you know, I have no patience with that. If people aren’t on time it makes me crazy and I get real fascist, but she’s great with that stuff. I know you live by the ethic, “We don’t buy; we make.” Is that how the furniture you made for your house first came about?
Yeah. If I could have done anything I wanted to, I would have stuffed it with [Jacques-Émile] Ruhlmann, Jean Dunand and Jean-Michel Frank—30s Art Deco furniture. But all of that is too small, besides the fact that it costs a fortune and we couldn’t afford to fill the house with it. And I don’t know if Michele would have even liked it—she doesn’t like that kind of furniture as much as I do. So we just customized everything because it makes it specifically ours.Does the furniture you design come from the same aesthetic as your clothes?
Totally. You know, that same period in clothes was always my inspiration: Mariano Fortuny and Madame Grès and Vionnet, and that 30s and 40s classic Hollywood sensibility, with big white satin Art Deco chairs. That’s what we’re doing, but in a black leather and ripped T-shirt kind of way. The pieces feel medieval, like a Pope’s furniture.
Well, temples were always a big reference for me because [I went] to Catholic school. When I first started making clothes they were all grey and dragging on the ground. Afterwards I analyzed it and that was a direct reference to living in a conservative and very boring little town [his native Porterville, California] and [then being exposed to] the exoticism of those saints in the Bible, wandering around in those temples, dragging those dusty robes, on a higher spiritual level. That was pretty romantic. That’s interesting because you have described your own life as being monastic, with a strict routine, gym and work.
Yeah, well it’s great having a little sense of purpose, but I’m the first to mock it. It’s just fashion. I’m certainly not sacrificing anything, because I can’t think of anything more glamorous than working on making beautiful things.