Rick Owens: From rags to riches

Unconventional designer Rick Owens is expanding his empire with a pop-up in east London, but he's doing it in a typically humble way, writes Rebecca Gonsalves

When Rick Owens dropped out of LA's Otis College of Art and Design after two years, he eventually found work as a pattern cutter making fake designer goods in the city. Owens, famed for his unconventional approach and glamorous grunge aesthetic, has been served well by that experience, having gained an understanding of the fundamentally important skill of pattern making.

The designer long ago swapped Los Angeles for Paris – where he feels like a “resident alien, in the loveliest way”. These days, nearly 20 years after he launched his label with his romantic partner Michèle Lamy, he has also swapped selling clothes just to his friends for overseeing a mini empire.

As well as his mainline collection, Owens has two secondary labels, a fur line and furniture sold from stores in six cities. Later this week, a pop-up, or rather more romantically “éphémère”, for his DRKSHDW (or Dark Shadow) line will open its doors in east London.

“The DRKSHDW collection has been taking on a life of its own,” says Owens of the launch that is being replicated in New York. “This was a fun way to experiment with thinking about it independently. Now, please don't take this too seriously,” the famously pragmatic designer jovially instructs. “This is only a 200 square metre shop I'm doing – just one step above walking down the street promoting my collection with a sandwich board. But it was also a nice way of reaching out to another part of town, which might not know there is a full Rick Owens store in Mayfair.”

The steady gentrification of east London means that the streets of E8 are no longer quite such a world away from Mayfair, and indeed, contrary to the way that some diffusion lines are as diluted as a homeopathic remedy, DRKSHDW stays true to Owens' original successes. So while Owens' Mayfair customers can browse the softest washed leather, finest cashmere and frayed silk, in east London similar pieces are crafted predominantly from denim.

Unsurprisingly, since its launch in 2005, DRKSHDW has been made rather a success by those for whom, however much Owens' aesthetic resonates, spending over £1,300 on a leather jacket cannot be justified.

“DRKSHDW is growing,” attests Owens. “The response has been very kind and I want to enjoy that.” And one way in which he will enjoy that success is with a party: “I will be doing a London version of the Spotlight Club – a club I do sporadically in Paris. Nothing fancy, just a late-night dance party with some friends. I had been missing a dark, seedy dance spot in Paris, so I started one myself.”

Although Owens may have changed throughout his career, casting off the hedonism of his past, he remains remarkably humble and honest: “Frankly, when I started out, I really didn't think this far,” he confides. “I've got more than I imagined, and probably more than I deserved. I feel invigorated.”

DRKSHDW: 4 September to 13 October, 30A Redchurch Street, London E2, 020 7033 3469 (opening hours: Wednesday to Saturday: noon-7pm; Sunday: noon-5pm; closed on Monday and Tuesday)

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