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rick owens' world, where geeks, misfits and weirdos rule

Rick Owens is so much more than a label, it’s a tribe, a family, a world. With AM Casting by their side, Rick and his partner Michèle Lamy have cultivated the ultimate creative community.

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“TRAILER TRASH, CRACKHEAD GEEKS X 40 PLEASE.” This succinct yet sprawling assortment of adjectives was one of the first caps lock casting briefs Angus Munro (i-D and AM Casting Director) received from LA born, Paris based designer Rick Owens. He might be a shape-shifting, otherworldly daydream that lurks in the darkest corners of imaginations, but the Rick Owens man has always been clear in Rick’s mind. AM Casting help copy, paste and manipulate his DNA to populate the house’s world of the weird and wonderful every season. Inviting i-D into the shadows of autumn/winter 14, Angus went in conversation with Rick, to reflect on the beauty of weird.

Angus: Your understanding of beauty intrigues so many people, what are your earliest memories of beauty?
Rick: I was surrounded by beauty as a child, it was just waiting to be found. My whole aesthetic is indebted to my father’s turn of the century literature and his collection of Japanese art books. Everything I do comes from that.

Aside from me, who is most beautiful person in your life right now?
At this moment, I would say my mum because she’s here in Paris visiting me. She’s hilarious. She’s part of the process as she’s here for every casting and is extremely present.

"Our aesthetic is so fully resolved that when these boys walk in for a casting, if they belong, they end up belonging for life.”

She is omnipresent. Who is the most beautiful person you’ve ever met?
It has to be Michèle. I wake up each morning, look over and just think how great she is. It’s wonderful to be in the relationship that you were destined to have.

Other than my mother and stepfather, I don’t think I’ve seen two people as happy together as you and Michele. How important a role has casting played in the craft of your menswear world?
I’m not sure if it’s who I want to be or who intrigues me. For me, it’s in the womenswear that we’ve explored more.

Is that because we explored the men first and got closer to where you wanted? Your Rick Owens man was so far away from agency models, we had to...
Invent our own concept? Looking back, I don’t think we did. When we worked with the German agents they had that world, it was pre-edited for us in a way.

That first season we started street casting in Paris and we found a few but then we stumbled across this crazy little agency, with a little crazy lady running it, who’s wonderful. Eva’s Tomorrow Is Another Day agency has gone from strength to strength, but we were the first to use them.
That’s right, we were.

A number of designers have taken their lead from you and pushed their own definitions of beauty. Ours is Jera, he is your guy. Tell us what you felt when you first saw him...
He was just super goofy, noodle looking, in a green leather women’s raincoat. He kind of reminded me of an extra from Pink Flamingos or some weird scene in Baltimore but when I shot him, he had this tremendous allure, a fragile Bowie-thing going on. He was very Space Oddity.

When I first met him I was like, “holy shit, he’s bizarre!” He’s a bizarre looking human being, but so is his character.
He is so unfuckable. He’s like a translucent jellyfish, but I love seeing how he’s changed. There’s this luminous come-hither thing from the pictures I shot of him ten years ago and now there’s this damaged feeling, a gravitas to his expression, it’s kind of fantastic.

He appears world weathered now.
He’s lived. He’s doing art, he sent me his work and it’s wonderful. He’s fulfilled his destiny of being this wonderful weirdo.

He was the starting point for our man again this season. The men’s show and the women’s were very much about family and thinking about the Rick Owens journey, exploring the world that you’ve created.
Nicola, the girl that was in the grey crocodile jumpsuit, she’s like the counterpoint to Jera. She’s the one that I can totally visualise in my mind’s eye and I keep going back to. I liked her spirit she was just gentle, warm, fun.

“We embrace weirdos. We are always looking for that little extra thing that is not going to appeal to most design houses. We like to provoke in our casting.”

She was street cast and hadn’t done anything like this before, she was terrified but she just got on with it.
She was a trooper. A lot of those girls were terrified. With the steppers I had a different feeling because I was conscious of the Internet and how cruel it can be, but then they’re performers after all.

Casting allows you to celebrate a particular moment, a particular chapter in the Rick Owens story...
These autumn/winter 14 girls are our girls, they’re family but the steppers gave me the confidence to use them. Not one girl looked uncomfortable or felt like a mistake and that’s important. We addressed another form of beauty. We didn’t create anything, it was a beauty that already existed but one we hadn’t talked about before.

Has anybody talked about it before?
I get to sensationalise and explore beauty because of my brand, that’s what it is. I don’t really see anybody doing it and I feel I should. It’s not a big moral responsibility, it just appeals to me.

You show the world that anyone can wear Rick Owens in their own way.
It’s not just about my clothes, I really do believe that anyone can have allure, everyone can put themselves together in a certain way that clicks. We might have made mistakes but looking back over these last couple of seasons, it’s really sharp, smart, ultimately, it’s exciting.

Backstage at the men’s show you commented that it marked a graceful transition from recent theatrical spectacular to a refocus on the clothes. How important was casting?
Very. Shows are much more than just good clothes. People have to believe in what you’re saying. Every single thing has to be specific, intimate and personal. We have our starting point, we know that we embrace weirdos and we are always looking for that thing, that little extra thing that is not going to appeal to most design houses and we like to provoke a little bit.

You just know what you want. A guy might work on the surface but they need to have the full package. It’s not like any other designer I work with, you immediately know.
Well, it takes a freak to know a freak, I guess.

There’s an authenticity aspect too. I remember proposing a film make-up artist to fabricate the shaved eyebrow look one season because we were finding it difficult to attract guys, even the weirdos, and you said, “no, no! I would like them to look ashamed...”
Ha, I remember, but the word I used was humiliated. It wasn’t genuinely about humiliating them, it was about having it look like a commitment.

You have a sixth sense of who will be able to communicate what you want them to on the catwalk, in your clothes.
It took me a while to learn and to trust my gut.

They can then go on to become part of your world.
I guess our aesthetic is so fully resolved that when these boys walk in, if they kind of belong, they end up kind of belonging.

We should talk about Benoit, who I street cast for you many years ago now. He was something of a beaten character when he entered your world and he’s been taken completely under your wing, he works closely with Michèle now...
He even crashed on the sofa last night because he had too much to drink at dinner.

See, he’s part of the family. It’s a wonderful story, it’s a wonderful world.