By  on October 23, 2007

Rick Owens, who prefers to be working in his Paris studio or elbow-to-elbow with factory employees making his clothes in Italy, is having a gold-star stay in New York.

On Monday night, Barneys New York celebrated the release of the designer's first book. On Thursday night, Owens will be honored at the Fashion Group International's Night of Stars and, last week, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum presented him with the National Design Award for fashion. Owens wants to share these moments. In fact, when fashion students — smiling wildly — surrounded him seeking snapshots after a panel last week, Owens immediately invited each group to join him in the photos.

"I live in such an isolated bunker of my own making," he said in an interview.

In other words, work is his anchor. He is not big on vacations, and he and his wife, Michelle, make dinner parties that allow him to retreat well before the last drink has been poured. His addiction is an afternoon nap, but that stems more from information overload than anything else.

"There is only so much I can take in every day,'' Owens said. "I always refer to it as 'temporary suicide,' because I can escape everything, empty out and wake up as if it's a whole new day....Naps are actually a great tool. I come up with a lot of ideas before and after naps."

Owens doesn't seem to have any shortage of ideas. Loosely translated, his book's title, "L'ai-Je Bien Descendu," means "How Well Did I Descend?" a reference to French cabaret singer Cécile Sorel's closing line after traipsing down a staircase in an over-the-top feathery ensemble.

The fact that many will consider the title out of context also appealed to Owens, who has shunned the personality contest that often comes with being an American fashion designer. The book actually started as an exercise to help new employees swiftly get up to speed with his work. Publishing only came into play after several buyers leafed through the showroom's mock-up version and encouraged him. It wasn't until he noticed a list of the various names of his collections that he realized it also encapsulated his 10th anniversary as a designer.After five years of working in Los Angeles, he hopped the pond to Paris to work as Revillon's creative director, a post he has since relinquished to focus more on his signature collections, the draped jersey-based Lilies and the denim-rooted Dark Shadow. "The garment industry in L.A. wasn't design at all — it was knockoffs," he said.

Even with fans like Courtney Love and Madonna, Owens tends to attract customers who prefer to be on the fringes of things and find out about his collection largely by word of mouth. His designs are sold in about 285 stores worldwide including Barneys New York and Podium in Moscow. Europe and Japan used to lead the charge in terms of top-selling regional sales for his collection, but now the U.S. is the best-selling market.

"I think it's great it's happening, but I didn't make a deliberate effort to make it that way," he said.

Despite his laid-back manner, Owens is a businessman. "I started selling the collection myself and it has developed into a retail-based business,'' he said. "It was never an editorial-based business. I'm in the showroom doing the sales. I like getting the sales reports and knowing what's working and what's not. Since I've opened a store in Paris, I see what's happening, what people respond to and what their complaints are."

A while back Owens thought the company's growth required more manpower in his studio but now prefers to work with only two assistants. "It's a very personal thing for me to make things,'' he said. "Young people with a lot of energy and ambition but no real skills — that was really distracting for me."

He recently found another space in Paris' 7th arrondissement to show his collections, since his five-floor house nearby, behind the Assemblée Nationale, has become "packed to the rafters" with salespeople and clients four times a year.

Owens even flies in his parents from his hometown of Porterville, Calif., to pitch in. The accommodations are storied. The terrace overlooks the Ministry of Defense's gardens where this month Owens spotted U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice getting a tour. The building's front section is 18th century l'étage noble and the rear section — built in the Fifties — once housed the socialist party and former French president François Mitterand had an office there.The idea for Owens' furniture collection stemmed from that vast space — though not intentionally. Initially, he thought it would be good to have a few pieces for his showroom, then he decided to add more since they were so well-received by visitors. He said he is "tickled pink" that the Philippe Jousse gallery has taken on his signature furniture collection, which is inspired partly by Le Corbusier, Jo Colombo and Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann.

Owens' furniture-maker became so involved in developing a full-fledged collection that he moved in to the designer's home for a period. When that happened, Owens said he thought, '"This is what it's supposed to be like.' When I first moved to Paris, I thought I needed two kids with cute haircuts, but then I realized I need an old burly guy who knows what he's doing and knows how to be artistic."

The timing of this month's awards dinners and the book party prompted Owens to visit the U.S. for the first time in five years. It was also time to check in with some stores and check out the Chelsea galleries in Manhattan, as well as the art museums. The absence was not deliberate, he said. "I just got busy. I fly my parents over. And everyone we know passes through Paris at one point or another."

Marc Jacobs is a friend and neighbor and Proenza Schouler's Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez hung out with Owens' wife, but Owens was away on business. Truth be told, his wife, the former designer of Michelle & Me, is the social one and he is not one for vacations.

"I like things ready and organized'' he said. "I don't see how you can enjoy yourself when you have deadlines. During the Christmas holiday, I am just chomping at the bit, waiting for people to get back to work. And in Europe, it's a holiday every 20 minutes. In Italy, there are not only a lot of holidays but each village has a saint's day and you never know when that is. That makes me crazy."

All in all, he is at ease in Europe and has no plans to return to the U.S. anytime soon, even though he doesn't speak French or Italian. Aside from perhaps designing a building, Owens is content to keep doing what he does. As for the fact that he hasn't been approached about any "interesting or kind of big" collaborations in about a year, "Maybe they assume at this point, I am happy where I am."So much so, that he has foregone the public relations push. "There was a minute where we had a press officer in Paris. But after a while, I felt, 'This isn't my thing.' I don't like this element of having to promote my clothes. I'm not really important enough. Plus, a lot of advertisers out there get the editorial. I felt like it was a little futile for me to go out to get scraps of attention."

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