Friday, August 15, 2008

Critical Shopper



“SO, I was at Les Deux Cafés in Los Angeles a few years ago,” enthused Nancy, who wears Rick Owens as often as possible, and was telling me why. “I was sitting by the door in a halter top, shivering a little. And this drop-dead fabulous older woman comes in: tiny-skinny, smoking; wild, black witchy-woman hair; wearing this very clingy Morticia-Addams-meets-Ginger-Rogers look, with her skirt dragging on the floor. Gobs of big wonderful rings. She looks at me and asks in her French accent, ‘Are you cold?’ And she rips this absolutely incredible leather jacket off her body and throws it around my shoulders.”
“Wow.”

“Then she sashays away, looks at me over her shoulder, wags her finger and says, ‘Don’t forget, on your way out!’ ”

“Did she instantly become your role model for life?”

“Completely. So, she turns out to be Michele Lamy, the owner of Les Deux. Everything she’s wearing is Rick Owens, because he’s her lover. She’s his muse. She’s significantly older, but he fell madly in love with her when he was a crazy twentysomething bisexual. I never wanted to take that jacket off!”

Rick Owens’s star began its vertical ascent as soon as Los Angeles stores began carrying his designs: drape-y, rough-looking creations in gorgeous materials, wrought into a style he has dubbed “glunge” (grunge plus glamour),which tends to give the wearer an appearance of emerging from the lips of a huge, slightly tattered flower.



His new boutique — big, white and stark — is, like a lot of Owens creations, still unfinished around the edges. But this blind spot has been turned into an advantage. If Mr. Owens were an architect, he would make beautiful ruins.

When I arrived at the shop, Nancy, in the spirit of Madame Lamy, was already swaddled in a long, lean sable coat, moaning with pleasure.

“How much is it?” she asked Antino Angel Crowley, one of Mr. Owens’s willowy, tattooed, beautiful employees. “It’s an apartment, right?”

“Basically,” Mr. Crowley replied. “It’s $65,000. Which isn’t bad, if you think about it.”

I tried it, and agreed: not bad. Actually, it was a poem.

“You wouldn’t need an apartment,” I said, half-joking. “This coat is like youth and sex and butter all at the same time. You could sleep on the sidewalk and you would never feel a lack. You wouldn’t even need love.” This coat might have humanized Leona Helmsley.

In 2003, Mr. Owens became the designer for Revillon, a label that has been wrapping women in fur since 1723. Later I read an Owens quotation encapsulating his approach to Revillon:

“It’s about an elegance being tinged with a bit of the barbaric, the sloppiness of something dragging and the luxury of not caring. At Revillon, I felt it wasn’t about displaying one’s wealth, but rather giving the woman a selfish pleasure. It is about using sable as the lining under a very humble jacket, the luxury is all hers.”

A mink cave-girl stole ($22,344) and a sheared mink coat with amorously wrapping tentacles ($43,610) echoed this sentiment.

RICK OWENS designs are decidedly kinetic; the pieces are made to elongate lines of movement in three dimensions, whereas most clothing is spatially flat — conscious mainly in front and back, and best when standing still. The store employees, hanging around in these slouchy, body-conscious shapes, resemble a modern-dance company.

I tried on a smoky brown, flared coat with a cowl neck and wobbling zipper that Bea Arthur might wear in “The Matrix IV” ($4,214). It inspired fooling around in the mirror; the perfect swing-weight of the coat added an ideal billowing slo-mo effect to my bullet-dodging Keanu back bend.

Nancy tried a pair of bias-cut trousers ($995) — very sexy and sharp for something as comfy as lounge wear. The hemless hem was dragging around the unswept stone floor collecting dust, to the admiration of the staff boys, who approved of this Kate Hepburn-in-a-vacant-lot-like spectacle.

I tried a pleated Art Deco Egyptian goddess-skort. It took three tries to get both legs through the proper holes in the light-free dressing room, but once on, it was very tempting to refuse to take it off until the price ($1,136) came down.

Mr. Owens’s aesthetic sometimes requires more hippy élan than one might be capable of.

William Streng, another tattooed sales-beauty in unlaced combat boots, pulled the mohair sleeves of a $568 V-neck sweater down over my fingers.

“But I can’t see my watch!” I complained.

“Who cares?” he shrugged. “Time stops.”

He had a point.

Mr. Streng was wearing a sheer rayon tank top ($245), frayed into hanging clots at the hem. I’ve always thought it sound to buy good clothes and wear them until they rot. With Rick Owens, this is especially true, because entropy is built in as a plus factor: the tatters look better with age. Like a security blanket, the holes are proof of enduring love.

The mystique of Michele Lamy, a chanteuse with two gold front teeth, is evident all over, but especially in a shelf full of little vicious-looking rat monsters made from sable scraps.

“Those are stash bags,” Nancy whispered.

“How much?” Mr. Crowley asked Mr. Streng.

“They are five, I think.”

“Hundred?”

“Thousand.”

Formidable.

THERE is something both exhilarating and exhausting about super-hipness — its demands can inspire both admiration and a slightly desolate feeling. Hanging out on certain couches can seem as arduous as a camping trip.

The Owens-Lamy Paris home, the former headquarters of the French Socialist Party, was described by Paper magazine as “gargantuan” and “bunker-like.”

But the clothes, for all their Gothic fury, are deliriously feminine.
Mr. Owens has said he is inspired by Lou Reed’s music. This makes sense: crudely simple melodies sung in an unpretty voice, but suspended in the excruciating tension of an almost unbearably delicate softness and sensitivity.

This mood can create anxiety, like sitting under a lead-glass chandelier that would crash down if not for the brilliant efforts of a single heroic spider. But unsettling settings also inspire relaxed inhibitions, creating the possibility for sudden intimacies to occur between strangers.

Are you cold? Here!

The sable, mes amis, is on the inside.

[article, photos: The New York Times, Thursday Styles, August 14,2008]

2 comments:

Stephanie said...

WOW- thank you for posting this. I love the story at the beginning- SO AMAZING. Thanks!!!! xo

Bostonista said...

Such an amazing story I really really love it. And that quote about not even needing love made me smile--and made it to my facebook quotes!