PARIS — For Rick Owens, making a hardcore music video with self-described drag terrorist Christeene Vale isn’t just about shock value. It’s about tolerance, kindness and balancing out what the designer sees as rising bigotry and cruelty in society.
At a party during the most recent Men’s Fashion Week in Paris, Owens and Vale premiered the video, titled “Butt Muscle,” which opens with a scene depicting Vale relieving himself on the designer—- and then gleefully exalts almost every X-rated fetish in the book. Drag artists, dancers and two live horses were among the guests at a party that raged until 6 a.m. at a clandestine club under the city’s ring road.
“There’s a climate right now that is going in a direction I’m uncomfortable with, and I feel an obligation to balance that out,” Owens told WWD in an interview at his Paris headquarters. “If we have extreme self-righteous bigotry on one side, then we need to balance that out with some cheerful degeneracy on the other.”
For Owens, the “underground” may no longer be possible, but the importance of counter-culture is rising. “Sometimes there are social and political climates that people want to react against and this could be one of those moments — it has to be one of those moments,” he said.
Fetishes have long been a motif in Rick Owens’ work. A statue he displayed at Pitti Uomo in 2011 showed him peeing onto mirrors. The designer likes to ask why certain themes — notably sexual ones — are still seen as perverse while violence and cruelty are so broadly accepted.
“It’s fine for movies to depict people being ripped apart by bullets to a heavy metal soundtrack, but a little bit of piss drinking and people get all nervous…And yet we’re fine with a hot, half-naked guy nailed to a cross dying,” said Owens.
The designer was educated in Catholic schools, which he credits for his need to rebel against control, but also appreciation for ceremony and ritual — frequent themes in his fashion work.
“I’m thinking in mythical, allegorical terms and people take it very literally. Even on my Instagram, I’m surprised at how straight people are being [about the video]. People are saying I can’t take this, I’m going to unfollow,” Owens said. “Did they not teach this generation about Cubism, about Surrealism, about Dadaism? Because it can be so literal and kind of straight. We’ve had these movements before that were so adventurous, and this is what we ended up with?”
In terms of fashion, Owens acknowledges that his own tastes trend toward the extreme — in 2015 the designer showed men’s cloaks with portholes onto private parts — but points out that movements like normcore are transgressive in their own way.
“Normcore is icky and kind of disturbing…because it’s not trying. It’s rejecting,” Owens said. “There’s a sneering side to normcore where I can see its appeal…but it’s not enough for me.
“I’m not a luxury company. I don’t have to accommodate so many people in that way,” Owens said. “I’m a niche company, and I get to perform a soliloquy of my personal interests. Being independent is completely rare now.”
Owens said the video was partly about having fun with friends. He noted he and his wife and business partner Michele Lamy had a “ridiculous bonding experience” shooting the video with Vale and director Matt Lambert—and gained greater self-awareness. But it’s also about making use of his platform’s independence.
About the more graphic sexual acts depicted in the video, “it’s kind of like watching someone from another planet do things their way. And there’s something to be said for an attitude for tolerance for that,” Owens said. “Putting out positive energy is an opportunity I have that I don’t want to waste…Sure, it has shock value — and shock value is fun — but fundamentally it’s about kindness and self-awareness and tolerance.
“And then,” he added, “there’s the fact that good-natured depravity is always a little bit fun.”
More: See the video here