“They already had more of a transgressive mystique than I could ever presume to propose,” he told WWD in an interview. “I was just delighted to apply some of my signifiers to something that held such allure for me in my youth.”
The Paris-based American designer took on Dr. Martens’ 1460 boot and the taller 1918 style, which boasts 18 eyelets, adding a taller, meatier tongue, heavy side zips and chunky laces that wrap around the leg.
Revealing the tie-up exclusively to WWD, Owens described a long personal history with the British footwear brand. Growing up in Porterville, California, he would wear black, knee-high Dr. Martens with white lacing and baggy shorts “in solidarity with the queer punk subculture” and for going to see bands like The Circle Jerks, Fear and Black Flag.
Performance artist Ron Athey, in those days a gogo boy at Club Fu–! , also made quite an impression on Owens, so much so that he invited Athey to be the face — and tattooed legs — of the collaboration.
“The first time Dr. Martens really registered for me was when I saw them on Ron in the early ’90s when he was working at the most intimidatingly authentic punk store on Melrose Avenue,” Owens related, describing Athey’s liberty-spike hairstyle and outfit -black bondage trousers, white suspenders, and a sleeveless black T-shirt. “He had a teardrop tattoo next to his eye and a rosary chain hanging from his nose to his ear and he immediately became my Marlene Dietrich.”
Athey dons long capes, opera gloves and wrestling briefs for the campaign, looking fierce in the heavy-soled boots.
For an artist whose works involve aspects of S&M – his most controversial performance involved cutting symbols into a man’s back, blotting the blood with paper towels and hanging them out to dry – doing a photo shoot for Dr. Martens was a breeze.
“He just agreed without question,” Owens said. “He is someone who has held true to his brand of subversion, from his intensely carnal performance art through his creepy acting role in Bruce LaBruce and Rick Castros’ 1997 movie ‘Hustler White.'”
This marks the second time Dr. Martens has tapped Owens.
“We share a connection through our wearer’s rebellious self-expression,” said Darren McCoy, creative director of Dr. Martens. “Our goal is always to create something functional, something durable and most importantly creating something unique.”
McCoy said Owens combined Dr. Martens’ “unmistakeable subcultural DNA” with his “darker, underground aesthetic.”
The boots are also luxuriously detailed, one style made with hair-on leather dyed platinum blonde. All are outfitted with dull silver eyelets and hooks and extra-long laces that wrap around the leg at the top of the boot.
Retail prices range from 349 euros to 679 euros. A second installment is programmed for December.
Owens, who founded his brand in Los Angeles in 1994, is a late bloomer in terms of collaborations, but in recent years has put his inimitable stamp on such brands as Converse, Champion, Moncler and Birkenstock.
“I got too isolated and wanted to play with new people,” he demurred. “Anytime I can speak about making our strict rules of contemporary aesthetics more flexible to a new audience, I jump at the chance.
“There is such a tide of strident judgment that I love to chip away at it in my own quiet way.”
For its part, Dr. Martens has conscripted a range of designers and artists to intervene on footwear first made in the 1960s for postal workers and police officers. Collaborations in recent years have included A-Cold-Wall, Yohji Yamamoto, Raf Simons, Supreme, Undercover, Marc Jacobs and the Keith Haring estate.