PARIS — “It’s a bit like an Escher drawing, isn’t it?” Rick Owens quipped last week as he guided a visitor up and down staircases through the complex warren of rooms that are the new, still-under-construction headquarters of Revillon.
The off-kilter, unfinished state of the building in the Marais is oddly emblematic of Owens’ plan as the new artistic director of the oldest fur house in the world. For his debut collection, to be unveiled Monday during couture week here, the American designer promises furs that are cut on the bias, somewhat raw and far from showy.
“They’re not going to be red-carpet furs. I want them to be everyday furs,” he said during an exclusive preview. “It’s not about displaying wealth….Today, women buy furs for themselves. It’s more about a woman in a cocoon of pleasure. A lot of our furs are actually just linings under a very humble jacket, so the luxury is all yours.”
Owens, 41, is the latest in a long list of designers with buzz enlisted to wake up a sleepy European house. Revillon, founded in 1723 and now owned by Swiss firm Fibalko SA, had its most recent heyday in the Fifties and Sixties, but its retail presence has dwindled in recent years to the company-owned flagship on Avenue Montaigne here. At present, there is no wholesale distribution.
Owens said the fact that his 10-year-old signature label, which does more than $4 million at wholesale, is actually bigger than Revillon made the challenge more appealing to him.
“It’s not like I’m jumping into the arms of a big, big company,” he said. “It’s very mom-and-pop, in a way, which I kind of love. I’m taking a risk, but so are they. If fur has a future, it’s coming from people my age — the ones who can afford it.”
Owens confessed he had grown skeptical of the rejuvenation formula in fashion. “But the more I learned about the history, I was absolutely seduced,” he said. “I think it’s so me, and I think it can bring something to Rick Owens.”
A self-described “hick” from Porterville, Calif., Owens has gained a cult following for his rough-hewn, gothic designs. He decamped to Paris about four months ago to plunge into the Revillon project, even bedding down in a room adjacent to the cutting table while he searches for an apartment.
Owens said he visited the Revillon archives, and was most impressed by the Inuit costumes and by “elegant” furs from the Twenties through the Forties. But since Revillon has had few famous designers, and a weak presence in recent years, he views it as a “clean slate,” image-wise. “My assignment is to create the identity,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll develop gradually in a strong way.”
The company intends to sell the premiere collection to about 10 “exclusive” stores and deliver it in October, widening the distribution in early 2004.
Ultimately, Owens will oversee the brand’s expansion into accessories and create a new store design. For now, he’s knee-deep in sable, shaved mink, nutria, muskrat, fox, ostrich leather and crocodile and scrambling to ready the outfits for Monday’s show.
“There are a lot of houses out there that can do sensational furs,” Owens said. “I hope our house is the one people can go to for something more personal.”