Rick Owens set out this season to design a collection that pays homage to one of his heroes, Larry LeGaspi. Owens attributes LeGaspi’s work as the inspiration for his own career and celebrated LeGaspi in his Fall/Winter 2019 menswear collection entitled “Larry.” LeGaspi was an under-appreciated, yet hugely influential designer who was one of Owens’ personal style icons. He is famous for designing the signature black and silver leather costumes for KISS, as well as the futuristic space age costumes for Funkadelic. Owens reflected on what it was like to see LeGaspi’s work for Kiss and Funkadelic as a young teenager. “He introduced a camp ferocity to the mainstream and helped set a lot of kids like me free, with his mix of art deco sexual ambiguity and raw, black leather bombast,” says Owens.
While LeGaspi designed over the top looks for the stage, Owens’s work boils down to minimal architectural designs. Discovering KISS at the age of 13 was a revelation for Owens, and presented him with an image of who he wanted to be. Owens described an iconic photograph of Gene Simmons as “a glamorously benign monster oblivious to the conventions and limitations of his surroundings traveling throughout the world in his own self-contained bubble.” It’s easy to understand the appeal to a timid and bullied 13 year old. It’s also quite clear how successful Rick Owens has been in achieving that vision for himself. “I actually got closer than I had ever hoped,” he admits.
Owens’ tribute is not a way to rehash or relive his teenage years, nor is it a way to replicate LeGaspi’s work. Rather, the collection is a representation of who Owens has become today, thanks to the influence of artists like LeGaspi, yet his work is tempered by experience and maturity. At first glance, Owens tribute is quite “subtle with many deliberate over-the-top flourishes.” It looks very classically Rick Owens. But the point here may be that LeGaspi’s work has always influenced Owens, we just didn’t realize it. That’s not to say the direct references to Legaspi aren’t there, they just don’t smash you over the head… but if you know, you know. The rather subtle lightning shaped quilting on thinsulate coats references the iconic lighting bolt pants Legaspi designed for KISS, plus the affinity LeGaspi had for using thinsulate himself. The black and silver art deco influence appears in the style lines and color palette of the retro-futuristic designs.
LeGaspi has always informed the structural bones of Owens’ collections. Classic leather jackets pay homage with hidden linear quilting in the zipper guard and traditional seams that are transformed into robotic style lines. The theatrical space age silhouettes of his hero may not be present literally, but Owens’ own silhouettes reflect the same fearless, expansive exploration of dramatic proportions and sci-fi influence, particularly in the “Metropolis” inspired rounded shoulders and sculptural shearling coats. However, instead of looking like outrageous stage costumes, Owens’ collection is infinitely wearable. Definitely not “normal,” but totally functional. The wide-legged trousers and platform heeled boots may not be office appropriate, but many of the coats and jackets are. Many of the wool blazers look almost traditional, though with subtle silhouettes and sparse, almost monastic details. Plenty of the puffer coats and leather jackets are functionally practical without being too outrageous to wear while running errands or out on the town.
There is a dark side to LeGaspi’s story, and Owens’ as well, which plays into his approach to this collection. As a teenager Owens was drawn to all the glamour, dissipation and vice attached to Legaspi’s work. “When I was 15, I wanted to be dissipated. And now I am, a little bit, but there is also responsibility.” Owens is careful not to glamorize the fallout from a lifestyle of dissipation, which can often be a chaotic, and potentially unhealthy. LeGaspi died of AIDS in 2001 at the age of 50. Owens himself was an alcoholic when he was younger and living in Los Angeles, a city he has not returned to in 20 years because it still represents a time in his life that he has worked so hard to recover from.
Rick Owens’ latest collection says a lot about who he is, and what he has learned from the process of growing older. The beauty, the glamour, the brutalistic minimalism in his work, and yes even a sense of romance is visible in every single garment. There is a sophistication, and laser focus that comes from knowing who you are, and not having to prove yourself. What’s more, while no KISS fan can be seen parading in a Larry Legaspi costumes without their sanity being questioned, Owens’ work carries a little of that spirit in a way that is more sustainable, dare I say more mature, lifestyle. And while these are by no means dated looking iconic pieces, you don’t have to be young to look amazing in them.