“I’m a control freak,” says fashion icon Rick Owens of the inspiration that led him to design furniture with his wife Michèle Lamy. “I wanted to control the environment around me aesthetically.” Their first collection showed in Paris in 2007, where its dark, minimal aesthetic was proclaimed an extension of Owens’ subversive style, but is more explicitly a creative by-product of his relationship with Lamy – the pieces were initially conceived for their own personal space. Together they conjure sculptural forms carved from materials such as basalt, petrified wood and alabaster, and will unveil new limited-edition collectables (priced from €38,000) at Glade, an exhibition at London’s Carpenters Workshop Gallery, which opens this week until October 25.
The gallery will set the stage for their original aluminium Prong stool, which will be shown beside new versions in which fireworks have been used to melt and corrode the surface. Two large-scale couches consisting of individual units are made from plywood and wool army blankets, displayed alongside sculptural crowns, intended as headpieces. The name “glade” references the womb-like, protective state that Owens and Lamy wanted to convey but, as in previous work, the pieces are also strikingly brutalist – conceived with geometric shapes, clean lines and muted hues. “I think my schtick is that I’m a Californian who has come to Europe with a fascination for its complexity and cultural layers, and I’ve taken a Californian-American eye and simplified it into a kind of cartoon,” he says. “What I do is completely respectful. It’s not intended to be ironic, but is, perhaps, just the way I process the aesthetic. I love that it’s kind of reductivist and theatrical at the same time.”
Owens’ first furniture designs were created for his Los Angeles apartment. This continued when he and Lamy moved to Paris, where they sought out highly skilled artisans to bring their ideas alive. “We started designing what we felt we needed and that’s gone on throughout our relationship – it’s one of the ways we play in our lives,” he says. “It’s a fun competition between us – our personal little game.” The creations are branded under the Rick Owens label but Lamy’s input is considerable. This is her baby. “I’ve always said the creative process is 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent talent,” Owens says. “I don’t flatter myself that I’m the most creative person, but I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with the most talented people.”
Lamy, he admits, is the only person he trusts to oversee the project. “It’s never a one-sided conversation with Michèle,” he adds. “Her execution is a big part of it. It’s a labour of love for us. The fact that it’s something we can now sell is just a side effect.”
Their furniture is heavy, solid, sculptural and gargantuan in scale. “Michèle and I appreciate a larger-than-life life,” Owens quips when asked about their proportions. “I’ve always loved art deco and gothic furniture, but all of it’s just shockingly small. At the end of the day, I think I just enjoy a grand gesture.” He talks about the proliferation of “sensible stuff” in homes – the furniture that can be moved from apartment to apartment or constructed from a box. “There’s enough of that. I wanted this to be the equivalent of a Richard Serra monument. I want it to outlast us all,” he says. “That’s the point for me. I think any creative gesture is a bid for immortality. You’re trying to leave your mark on the world, to be remembered for saying something. There’s no way of avoiding that. It’s primal – it’s ego, but to be fair, it’s also about communicating with your environment and engaging with a generation.”
Owens and Lamy have made their mark given that their pieces have been exhibited at galleries (such as LA’s MOCA) and influential fairs like Design Miami/Basel and Frieze New York. But would he describe it as furniture or art? “I’ve always shied away from the art label. I don’t know if I will ever be comfortable with saying that what I do is art,” he says. “It’s not really modesty, but more that’s there’s some kind of spiritual element to it that I don’t feel I qualify for or that I have the authority to claim. But, you know, when I look back on everything that I have made in my life – when I look back at that story, I might call that a work of art.”