rick owens wants us all to cheer the fuck up
As his second collaboration with Birkenstock drops, the Prince of Darkness discusses why we all need to lighten up and how wellness, sex and glamour can help.
Photography Flo Kohl
"I've been moving towards glam,” Rick Owens explains at the launch of his second collaboration with Birkenstock, “it could be down to a begrudging optimism because I've been dour about cultural and natural decline. It's time to cheer the fuck up!” While forcing the frow to choke on coloured smoke plumes as he sent out his parade of otherworldly sculptural sportswear before asking his all-powerful women, dressed in survival-wear, to put a torch to the world for spring/summer 19, his recent shows have been anger-fuelled acts of creative resistance in response to the sociopolitical shitstorm that we’re living through today.
Now, with the world on fire, the California-born, Paris-based, forever independent design force has turned to the optimism found in glamour and comfort. Fresh from honouring the glam-rock glory of lust and vice in the story of Larry LeGaspi -- the visionary mind behind the iconic looks of Labelle, Kiss, Grace Jones and Divine -- Owens has added architectural glamour to the ultimate comfort footwear, Birkenstock sandals.
From Marc Jacobs’s iconic (and recently reissued) 1992 grunge collection for Perry Ellis to Phoebe Philo’s “Furkenstocks” for Céline spring/summer 13, fashion has flirted time and time again with the Görlitz-made sandals, but in Rick Owens they’ve found the ideal creative partner to push both its archive and new styles forward. “Owens is one of the most relevant and last independent designers,” Oliver Reichert, CEO of Birkenstock, explains. “His take has transformed iconic Birkenstock styles and there are many more common traits our brands unite than most would have thought at first.”
The debut collaboration reimagined one of the brand’s most recognisable sandals, the Arizona, in fuzzy grey calf-hair and fringed straps. For the follow-up, the classic Arizona and Rotterdam silhouettes have elongated straps in different metallics and colourblocked colourways, while the Rotterhiker boot includes a metal buckle on the upper strap for easy fastening, an elongated tongue and a translucent rubber sole. In the grungy glam hands of Owens, the familiar becomes the otherworldly.
"I'm not interested in just decorating the sandals, it had to more than applying sequins and studs,” Owens explains. “Here, I wanted to do something architectural, so we lengthened the straps and you wouldn't believe the discussions we had to make it happen. They're all about safety. It’s their values and I respect them for it, that’s what drew me to work with them in the first place.” His cult might be made of shape-shifting, transcendental daydreamers that lurk in the darkest corners of our imaginations, but Owens is the first to remind us that he’s a Californian hippy at heart. “We make sense together,” he explains. “The barefoot sandal thing, that’s my jam. Also, the countercultural element too, Birkenstock has a 60s nostalgia too. Initially, the collaboration might’ve come as a shock but it made sense to the people that know.”
“It can’t just be a product collaboration, there are too many around,” Oliver notes. “There has to be a real newness, a context of how to experience and visualise the product has to materialise.” To celebrate the first product drop, the second collaboration launched with black cork-covered pop-ups in Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai. “For me, it's about wellbeing, living a healthy lifestyle,” Owens explains. “Birkenstocks conjure up thoughts of sun-worshipping Germans, with this healthy attitude towards sex. There’s a sensuality to wellness that’s overlooked. It's this mix of sex and health that I like.
"What’s sexier than big, white, strong teeth?"