INSIDE 10: RICK OWENS
When it comes to aesthetics, there is a hierarchy of meaning. Clothes can only tell you so much. If you really want to know a person, look at how they live. “Interiors are more permanent. They don’t fluctuate so much. When you are creating an interior it is such a personal signature. It’s more profound. You can really figure somebody out by their interior,” Rick Owens says. This depth of meaning and expression is the reason his Instagram feed is chock-full of interior porn.
So what do Owens’s own interiors say about him? He has homes in Paris and Venice, but he describes his apartment in Concordia sulla Secchia, the small, north-Italian town where his factory complex is based, and where he spends months at a time working on his collections, as his “most resolved” living space. Situated on the top floor of a new-build apartment block, unlike his other spaces, there was no history to contend with. “I could build it from the ground up, so it was an exercise in making it perfect, and I’d never done that with an interior before,” he says.
He’s been coming to Concordia for more than 18 years. At first he would sleep on a mattress in his office at the factory, with his only excursion off the premises a half-hour drive to the gym. Then he got digs in a motel above the local petrol station. What it lacked in comfort it made up for in creepiness. “It was kind of like a place a serial killer stops at. It was so banal and beige, but I liked it because there was this sinister edge to it. Coming to Concordia always meant a kind of austerity. It was very compromised living, which had an appealing sense of sacrifice, if I’m honest,” he says with a pleasing curl of his lip.
After an earthquake severely damaged the town in 2012, the region began to rebuild and a brand new apartment block was planned opposite Owens’s factory. He snapped up the whole of the top floor – “It was actually three apartments” – and a large terrace. “I had the opportunity to build something as extravagantly as I wanted to and I fulfilled my Jean-Michel Frank fantasy,” says Owens.
The godfather of French interior minimalism, Frank was a cousin of the teenage diarist Anne Frank. He jumped to his death from a Manhattan apartment block in 1941, but the purity of his “impassively monolithic” interwar spaces left a lasting impression. “I’d always fetishised Frank’s interiors and how they were vast and minimal, but each material was so thought out,” says Owens, who combined his Frank obsession with his love of 1930s Italian rationalist buildings and fed these influences into this, his most perfected interior.
“I like having the simplest things as sumptuous as possible,” says the designer, and his Concordia apartment is an ode to that guiding principle. Its austerity and purity is, in part, a reaction to his large, rambling, concrete-clad Paris home. A highly crafted, ultra-functional space, the Concordia home is entirely responsive to his needs. It is essentially one big room, clad in travertine stone, with a travertine plinth for a bed. Even the cupboards, of which there are few, are lined in travertine. “It’s not as sumptuous as marble, which would be a little bit too flashy for me,” says Owens. Furniture is limited to a sofa, desk and a set of Eliel Saarinen chairs from 1901: “He is somebody that I have followed since I was a teenager. He’s an architectural hero.” Which leaves plenty of space for a full set of gym equipment and the designer’s array of treasured objects, which include an Egyptian sarcophagus, a human skull, a George Minne sculpture and a number of Italian futurist heads. Owens has spent decades patiently building this collection, often waiting years for the right piece to come up at auction or through his trusted network of dealers. “Most of the things that I get are things I have wanted for a long, long time. I am not an impulsive buyer and I don’t like clutter. I don’t like filling my world with impulsive things. It has to be a serious commitment.”
He’s so faithful to his objects that he travels with them. “Every summer, when it’s time to go to the Venice apartment, I have the sarcophagus, George Minne and some other bronze things all trucked over to the Lido, and I have them there for the summer. The sarcophagus goes in the gym and the Minne sculpture goes out on the terrace, and then when it’s time to come back to Concordia and close the Lido apartment, I just bring it all back. So I move them for the seasons – they travel with me because we’re very close.”
Like his Venice apartment – a similarly vast space, clad in Sardinian stone – Concordia reflects his highly disciplined work/ gym/sleep routine. Describing a day in his Concordia space, he says: “I get up. I shower. There is a big TV in front of the bed and I usually put on a black and white movie or an old episode of Poirot with the sound off and I play some Marlene Dietrich or old Liza Minnelli, or some kind of jazz stuff or Julie London or Rosemary Clooney. Sometimes it’s all disco or sometimes it’s all heavy techno. Then I just have coffee and go to the factory and I come back around 2pm, after lunch, and I take a nap on the big travertine bed and then I get up and go back to the office. I work until around 8.30, then I come back, I do half an hour or an hour of gym, then dinner is delivered, and I eat in front of the TV and then I go to bed. It’s all very civilised, austere and monastic.”
The space is so finely tuned to meet his needs that he describes the kitchen, as “barely there, because I never cook and there’s a domesticity to a kitchen that I am not crazy about”. Every detail has been finessed to Owens’s exacting standards. The light switches and sockets are custom-made (no plastic!) and the toilets have been carved out of onyx, “to match the travertine”. He’s particularly pleased with them. “Toilets are always a big thing for me. You go to people’s houses and they have amazing art all over the place, and then you go to the bathroom and they have a plastic toilet seat. It is just imbalanced.” A toilet is not something to be hidden away or treated as an aesthetic afterthought. His aim, he says, is to “elevate the essential tools of living, so that the barest necessities are supernatural – that’s my level of comfort”.
Comfort means something very specific to Owens. The highly collectible furniture he designs – monumental, sculptural, uncompromising, adamant – is made to express a certain amount of discipline. “When you see something that demands you stand up a little straighter and a little bit more formally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” he says. Not everybody understands his aesthetic. Owens had to train his gardeners to resist their urge to impose a conventional order on the plants on his wide, open terrace. “They were trimming the roses and trimming the bushes and trimming the jasmine. I had to explain to them I want this to be as wild as possible. I want there to be monkeys in here. I want this to be as savage as you can make it.” But it’s not all hard edges. “Even though my places are austere and they look austere, I lie down a lot, so there are mattresses everywhere. I don’t lie on a marble slab, I need back pillows.”
Owens has always had a highly individual approach to his spaces. In his twenties, he lived in an abandoned factory in LA that could only be entered by climbing through a hole in the roof. “I loved it. It was so isolated. I could play the stereo so loud and just work there. I don’t think I could live in that kind of isolation now, but it was good then.” Another apartment had broken windows and a pigeon living in the kitchen cupboard. He slept on a mattress on the floor and, at night, would draw a circle of Ajax around it to create a line that the cockroaches couldn’t cross. Later, he upgraded to a set of storefronts just off Hollywood Boulevard. “They were very old, with wonderful high ceilings that were very romantic, but it was definitely rough. The shower was a hose in an alley.”
He enjoys the demands his homes make on him and finds the challenge of living in such a focused space especially stimulating. “Your environment can really change the way you perform. I felt I needed to push myself more and I needed to have a higher standard of living to have a higher standard of working,” he says of the drive to perfect his Concordia home. Complacency is the enemy of creativity.
Photography by Rick Owens. Taken from Issue 17 of 10 Men Australia– NO PLACE, LIKE, HOME – is out NOW.