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rick owens subhuman inhuman superhuman milan exhibition
Photography Danielle Levitt

Talking to Rick Owens about his new retrospective exhibition

Plus, get your first look at ‘SUBHUMAN INHUMAN SUPERHUMAN’ in a new short film

Today, Rick Owens’ retrospective exhibition SUBHUMAN INHUMAN SUPERHUMAN opens in Milan, we’re celebrating with a trio of stories about the designer. Head here to meet the Rick Owens Tribe, and here to revisit ten of his most memorable shows.

As any self-respecting Rick Owens fan will know, today marks the opening of SUBHUMAN INHUMAN SUPERHUMAN, the anticipated retrospective of the inimitable designer’s work at the Triennale di Milano, comprising garments and accessories from his seminal archive, alongside furniture, graphics, filmed footage and other objects realised over the course of his prolific 23-year career.

“I WANTED TO BE THE NARRATOR OF MY STORY,” Owens tells us over email, in his signature block capitals, shortly before the show’s unveiling. “I WOULDN’T HAVE DONE IT UNLESS I COULD.” This is hardly surprising: the designer is naturally protective over his ever-expanding empire and its unique vernacular, having personally designed every product sold under his name since the launch of his then-LA-based fashion label in 1994.

In an exclusive short film documenting the show’s installation, we get a monochromatic sneak peek at what to expect: a tribe of headless mannequins appear to float in mid-air like graceful spectres, clad in floor-length dresses embodying the immaculate attention to drape, texture and silhouette with which Owens has become synonymous; the designer scrupulously peruses a museum display case littered with preparatory sketches and a mysterious swathe of what appears to be human hair (more on that below); rays of light illuminate a billowing cloud of dry ice.

It’s an enigmatic preview, but it certainly seems as if the visionary creative has been dreaming up an experience to rival that of his mesmeric runway spectacles, his aim, he has revealed, to continue his interrogation of “ ideas of beauty and acceptability within our society”, while exploring the evolution of his creativity and the ideas and icons that have inspired it.

We catch up with Owens to find out more on what you can expect. 

Why did now feel like the right moment for your retrospective?

Rick Owens: WELL, IT’S NOT LIKE YOU MAKE A PROCLAMATION: ‘I AM READY FOR MY RETROSPECTIVE NOW’ – SOMEONE NEEDS TO INVITE YOU, AND MILAN INVITED ME. BUT THANKS FOR THE IMPLICATION THAT I WAS DECLINING A FLOOD OF OFFERS BEFORE SETTLING ON THIS ONE.

Can you explain your choice of title for the show?

Rick Owens: IT’S AN ATTRACTIVELY ROBOTIC TERM THAT REFERENCES THE SELF DOUBTS, HIGHS, LOWS AND SELF-DELUSIONS WE ALL FORGIVE OURSELVES FOR EVERY DAY.

What was the process like of looking back retrospectively over your work – both practically and emotionally?

Rick Owens: DELICIOUS. EDITING YOUR OUTPUT SO YOU ONLY COME OUT IN THE MOST FAVOURABLE LIGHT IS SUPER SATISFYING. OBVIOUSLY IT’S A MOMENT RIPE FOR GAUGING THE MEANING AND ARC OF YOUR LIFE BUT I’M NOT THAT COMPLEX SO I DON’T LET MYSELF INDULGE IN THAT TOO MUCH. I COULD GET MELANCHOLY AND PONDER MY DECLINE BUT I PREFER TO WALLOW IN PLEASURE LIKE A PIG IN SHIT.

“I COULD GET MELANCHOLY AND PONDER MY DECLINE BUT I PREFER TO WALLOW IN PLEASURE LIKE A PIG IN SHIT” – Rick Owens

What struck you most about the path you’ve taken and the way your creative practice has evolved? 

Rick Owens: IT GOES BY SO FAST. STUFF THAT FELT LIKE I DID IT YESTERDAY HAPPENED OVER TEN YEARS AGO. BUT WHEN I LOOK AT EVERYTHING I MADE, IT SEEMS LIKE IT WAS INEVITABLE THAT THEY WOULD TURN OUT THAT WAY… FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE.

What were your key aims in terms of the curation, and the way viewers will experience the pieces on display?

Rick Owens: LIKE EVERY SHOW I DO I WANTED IT TO BE AN EXPRESSION OF THE VALUES AND INFLUENCES I BELIEVE IN, ARRANGED IN A GRACEFUL COMPOSITION THAT SUGGEST AN APPRECIATION OF RITUAL, ORDER AND HUMANITY. WITH A RIDICULOUS FLOURISH THROWN IN EVERY NOW AND THEN.

You’ve always pioneered beauty and hope through your work. Why is that?

Rick Owens: I DIDN’T LIKE BEING TOLD THERE WAS A SET OF RULES IN BEHAVIOR OR APPEARANCE THAT WERE A SET STANDARD TO FOLLOW. REJECTING PEOPLE BASED ON APPEARANCE IS THE KERNEL OF BIGOTRY AND INTOLERANCE. THIS IS PART OF THE HUMAN CONDITION AND THOSE RULES WILL NEVER DISAPPEAR BUT I FEEL MY ROLE IS TO TRY AND BALANCE THEM OUT BY SUGGESTING A BIT OF FLEXIBILITY…

Tell us a little bit about the new sculptural installation?

Rick Owens: I CALL IT A PRIMAL HOWL OF EGO, RAGE, ASPIRATION, FATALISM AND JOY. ITS AN EARTHWORK COMPOSED OF CONCRETE, LILIES, ADRIATIC SAND AND THE WADS OF MY HAIR I HAVE BEEN COLLECTING OVER THE YEARS. THE WORKING TITLE WE USED DURING ITS CONSTRUCTION IS TURDNADO.

SUBHUMAN INHUMAN SUPERHUMAN will be open from December 15 2017 to March 25 2018 at Triennale di Milano.