How Rick Owens’ Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy Came to Define Modern Menswear

By upending sartorial gender norms and cultivating his own fashion universe, the designer’s signature aesthetic has become the new normal for stylish guys.

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Complex Original

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“This is my little alternate universe,” Rick Owens says. “I’ve built a place where—I hope—people who may have otherwise been outsiders can feel welcome.”

Over the years, Owens has regularly spoken some iteration of this invitation to like-minded “freaks,” “weirdos,” and other square pegs—all terms of affection coming from him. The fact that he doesn’t indicate some distinct space, that he doesn’t point to some isolated bubble on the periphery of our world, is telling. His little universe is here, there, everywhere.

At the moment we are in the back of a water taxi, skipping across the Venice lagoon from the Lido. We’ll step off at the Giardini to wander around the Biennale, the art world’s equivalent of an Olympics held here every other year, where we will see plentiful evidence of his Owensverse—in the elegant, knowing wink of the jet-setters draped in his recognizably lush leathers; in the devotional fervor of the superfans who stop him, incessantly, asking to take selfies; and even in the deference from the rather civilian-looking pedestrians here who simply yell out their affections as they pass.

Walking through an art fair with Owens is a little like going to a concert with Prince. People gawk as if they’ve seen a white peacock—one of which Owens thinks would look really perfect by the Serbian pavilion.

“It’s wonderful,” he says as we stroll, watching the art-watchers. “A complete and utter devotion to the pursuit of beauty.”

I nod solemnly and squint in a manner I hope looks sagely. Then Owens says, “Art—I hate art. I like parties, though.” He fake collapses on the grass, from the fatigue of it all, and we flop around in front of the Greek pavilion like 6-year-olds.

When I am under the influence of the Owensverse, as I am with growing frequency these days, I see Owens’ hand in everything—in the suspiciously familiar drape and asymmetry of an H&M sweater, in pseudo-trends with names like “healthgoth,” in the haute fashion aspirations of sneaker culture. And this is not purely magical thinking.

There are numbers that attest to Owens’ expanding influence and growth. Numbers like $120 million, which the company’s earnings were projected to surpass in 2014—patently not the number of a “niche” fashion brand. But what’s in a number? Let’s take a test subject—take me.

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