Rick Owens came onto the fashion scene precisely when a kind of cultural shapeshifting was about to take place, as the regalia of hardcore punk and metal slowly became diffused into mainstream culture and absorbed by mass market consumption. A master appropriator, Owens was able to successfully import the do-it-yourself and improvised ethos of this countercultural expression into a trillion dollar global apparel market. Since then, Owens has developed his own tribe—609,000+ followers on Instagram, to be precise—voguing to the beat of Byrell the Great or Dat Oven in drop crotch cashmere pants. His trademark can now be found in all aspects of his brand. There are his clothes: draped, dark volumes of contrasting proportions and sculptural silhouettes. There are his shows: press-worthy spectacles of blazing catwalks, sorority hip-hop dancers, foam waterfalls, and male models letting it all hang out. And then there’s Owens himself: performative, controversial, and always up for shock, most recently immortalized in Christeene’s “Butt Muscle” video with his waist-long black locks shoved into the performer’s anus.
So when news circulated that Owens would open his ninth flagship store in SoHo late last year, it came with a great sense of anticipation. Though his former store on Hudson Street was fairly raw and unadorned, many expected a level of theatricality in his new haunt, given that it would be representative of a guy who had a composite photograph taken of him pissing into his own mouth. Certainly his other stores had elements one could call “quirky” at best: his Paris headquarters, for instance, features a naked wax statue of Owens urinating on the floor. Owens, too, seemed to understand architecture’s importance. In an interview for 032c, he referred to clothing as the first step towards architecture.
“Suspended between a simultaneous awareness of and an indifference to craftsmanship, they are at once charming and unbearably awkward.”
But when I arrived at Owen’s outpost, the building’s lackluster green façade—left from its former haunt as a ladder store—and Owens’ modest signature on the windows seemed to signal I was in for something rather tame and unassuming: considerably less Mordor, and more loft living. A cheerful twenty-something employee greeted me. We proceeded to make small talk as an eclectic mix of middle aged men and young street wear enthusiasts adorned in carnivalesque costumes perused the goods on display. “Who exactly is the main clientele?” I asked, confused. “A lot of creatives in their 40s and 50s,” he mused, “and, of course, a lot of performers like rappers and musicians.” This polarizing clientele—at once low-key and spectacular—seemed to sum up the store’s design impulses. Designed by Michèle Lamy, Owens’ furniture designer, wife, and “fairy witch,” the store features a fairly normative shell of white walls and a concrete floor. With the exception of a monumental concrete staircase that bisects the store, most of the geometry appears to have been left intact.
Still, through smaller moves, it becomes clear Lamy has attempted to tap into the dark, minimal “tribal” narrative of Owens’ brand, reimagined through the projection of an aspirational lifestyle that clients can hope to attain. Evoking a prehistoric feel, furniture primarily designed by Lamy is scattered throughout the space, adopting associations to rocks, landforms, and animals. Concrete slabs have an aged patina. In a Brutalist manner, materials speak to the customer through their own physical presence rather than the use of dramatic lighting or “special effects.”
Owens and Lamy’s sculptural furniture are the true focus of this space, populating the first floor as follies that lead the shopper through a promenade of handbags, signature shoes, and housewares. Doubling as display plinths and seating, these faceted boulders are constructed from and covered with unusual materials: camel hide, concrete, marble, plywood, alabaster, and polystyrene. Although Owens has been designing furniture since 2007, for his home and retail spaces, only recently did it become an extension of his brand available for purchase. Likewise, the store was ultimately envisioned as an experimental space to test prototypes for the exhibition of Owens and Lamy’s furniture, now on view at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Foam seating sculpted into Owens’ signature “prong” shape used in his previous furniture designs are available in single and double sizes, with camel skin versions running in the €30,000 range. Likewise, the theme of Paleolithic domestication is pronounced in the store’s housewares, such as made-to-order dark terracotta and copper plates and cutlery made of sterling and bone designed by Owens and Lamy. Their cave is replete with a totemic stone fireplace housed in the rear of the store, echoing a large sculptural column made of glass, steel, and crystal near the entrance.