Mel Ottenberg Gets Ripped for Rick Owens
Our editor-in-chief Mel Ottenberg puts some muscle into the new Moncler + Rick Owens collab.
MEL OTTENBERG: Hey.
RICK OWENS: Look at that mustache. Is that new?
OTTENBERG: It’s a beard.
OWENS: Well, it looks great.
OTTENBERG: Thanks. You look great, too. How are you?
OWENS: I’m good. We’re at the beach in Lido. It’s the end of the day—I’m going to put my earbuds in because I want the sound of your voice filling my head.
OTTENBERG: I’ll do the same. I want the full Rick experience. Okay. So you’re at the beach, summer’s coming to an end. I’m thrilled, personally. I want sweaters and leathers on my body. Your body looks great, by the way.
OWENS: It’s changing a little bit. I’m 62 now, and it’s not as easy to keep the stomach ripped. It feels like I’m doing just as much work, but it’s not doing exactly what it’s supposed to.
OTTENBERG: I’m 47, so you’re really inspo for me here. Although I’ve never had a ripped stomach.
OWENS: Well, I don’t want to be discouraging. It’s not that hard to get it. For me, it’s not about cardio because I’m just naturally super lean, probably because I smoke a lot and drink a lot of coffee. You probably need a different kind of recipe, but I always say, it only takes one Donna Summer song of sit-ups every day. It’s not that hard.
“I just want to look good in clothes.”
OTTENBERG: Now we’re talking. Which song?
OWENS: “I Feel Love,” the best song ever in the entire world.
OTTENBERG: How many sit-ups do you do?
OWENS: I just do 200 at most, 100 if I’m lazy.
OTTENBERG: I think I’m going to listen to “MacArthur Park Suite” after this really loud and do sit-ups. I was supposed to go to the gym this morning, but I skipped it because we had a party last night.
OWENS: Are you still sober?
OWENS: How does that work?
OTTENBERG: It works fine. Maybe I’m a bit more boring because I’m more practical, but I think at this time in my life, it’s the only way to be. I have a clean mind and I’m very aware of everyone else’s bullshit. It’s an easy way to keep the good ones in and keep the bad shit out.
OWENS: I don’t know how you maintain interest though, because you’re a smart, funny guy, but there’s a lot of people out there who aren’t smart and funny that you have to deal with when you go out, and it’s not worth it to me sometimes.
OTTENBERG: I don’t go out that often.
OWENS: Going out for you though is essential because your role is to seek out people that are sparkling. It’s always been hard for me to find them. I’m not saying that’s because my tastes are so elevated, it’s just that there’s a lot of bad stuff out there. There’s so many loud voices looking for attention in the wrong ways.
“It would be too drama queen to torture myself.”
OWENS: Both of our jobs are to edit and be selective, and that sounds so elitist and judgy, but I hope that we do it kindly. I was just reading Cathy Horyn in The Cut today and she was talking about the current state of fashion. She’s smart, but her tone can be so snarky.
OTTENBERG: I think you and I, and we’ve been friends for quite a long time, are not always satisfied with what we’re finding, but we’re definitely open to finding it.
OWENS: We’ve been friends for around 20 years.
OTTENBERG: I was at your first fashion show in New York in 2002. I was interning backstage, putting shoelaces through everyone’s belt loops.
OWENS: Yeah. The first song to the first fashion show that I ever did is still an anthem for me. It was Alice Cooper’s “Sick Things.”
OTTENBERG: Wait, hold on. I really like looking up lyrics.
OWENS: I do that, too. Read the whole thing, it’s really good. It could be my manifesto.
OTTENBERG: “Sick things in cars/ Rotate round my stars/ Sick things, my things/ My pets, my things./ I love you things I see as much/ As you love me/ You things are heavenly when/ You come worship me./ Your things are chilled with/ Fright for I am out tonight./ You fill me with delight, you/ Whet my appetite.” Those were the lyrics to your first fashion show. Talk about an editor. You really know your shit, baby.
OWENS: I stand by those lyrics. I should print them on something.
OTTENBERG: You should. Is Alice Cooper one of the forefathers that created your aesthetic?
OWENS: He absolutely is, but like a lot of those people, he slipped over into something comical. It’s a tricky thing. You see people embracing something that’s new, that feels grotesque and almost threatening, and then it loses its bite. KISS was like that. When KISS was starting out they were genuinely a threat and I genuinely believed that Gene Simmons was vomiting blood and that he had really slit his tongue. They really were scary. Then after a while they became cartoons.
OTTENBERG: It’s important when you’re going out on a limb and you’ve really got a look, to always be open to the evolution of said look. Otherwise, you’re just going to become a trope of yourself. How do you avoid going soft like Alice Cooper or KISS?
OWENS: It’s always honest and it’s got to be real. I remember reading an interview where Alice Cooper said, “People need to separate me from my stage persona.” I was crushed. I was like, “You don’t really mean it?” That was a big lesson for me. You can’t put something out there that you don’t believe in, or else people are going to see through it. I don’t like phoniness. Now, this is coming from somebody who does shows with smoke and mirrors and firebombs. I believe in artifice and theater, but behind it, there has to be a genuine ethos and a genuine connection.
OWENS: Honesty is the main thing. And I also want to be entertained. I want excitement. I want to be shocked. And I want to put stuff out there that I want to see. Right now I’m reading biographies about the aesthetic peaks people reached in the past and it makes me competitive and hungry for that kind of experience.
“What’s your bad habit, Rick?”
OTTENBERG: Are you a harsh critic of your own work?
OWENS: It would be too drama queen to torture myself. Sometimes I think, “I really hit a bullseye there.” And then sometimes I think, “That was nice,” or, “That’s adequate.” I’m rarely ever disappointed because I work too hard on things. It takes a long time and a lot of energy, but if you have an end goal that you can visualize, you can get there. So every fashion show is really a pleasure. I don’t know if this will last forever, but this is the way it’s worked for me.
OWENS: Because at the beginning I didn’t know what I was doing and I was grasping a bit, I was making some mistakes. But then after a while I learned how to operate with what I had. And once I got better at it, I learned to relax and have fun. If you don’t try and pretend to be somebody you’re not, you can come up with something good.
OTTENBERG: Good advice.
OWENS: By the time the show comes around, I’ve put together the best of what I can as honestly as I can do it. Usually, I think, “Okay, this is nice and this’ll work.” And so show day is usually a really relaxed day for me. It’s like a birthday party. We met the deadline and we got it there. And now all that’s left is to enjoy unwrapping it in front of everybody. Maybe someday it’ll change, but I don’t really have that stress of, “Are people going to like it?” I don’t know if that’s self-satisfaction, but by the time it’s there, I’m thinking, “If I like it, somebody’s got to like it.”
OTTENBERG: Fuck yeah. I like it. We like it.
OWENS: Thanks, Mel.
OTTENBERG: Sure, Rick. I’m going to ask you some rapid-fire questions. Are you ready?
OTTENBERG: Do you like answering questions?
OWENS: Probably too much. Sometimes I do these things and I’m thinking, “Wow, you really like the sound of your own voice, don’t you?”
OTTENBERG: What are you listening to right now?
OWENS: I’m listening to Unicorn on Ketamine, which is gabber techno, and Shirley Horn—old jazz—and Julie London.
OTTENBERG: Fabulous. Okay. What do you collect?
OWENS: I don’t collect anything. I get rid of stuff all the time. The thing about having things around is that they become invisible, they just become trophies. That being said, right in front of me is this bronze futurist head on top of a pillar that I have here proudly in my apartment in Lido. So I do collect a few things, but not a lot.
“I haven’t eaten sugar in 51 days.”
OTTENBERG: So what’s your bad habit, Rick?
OWENS: Smoking, I guess. I don’t know if it’s that bad.
OTTENBERG: What brand?
OWENS: Marlboro Light 100s.
OTTENBERG: True glamour.
OWENS: Well, what’s truly glamorous is I have a stash that they send me from Japan because the packs are white and the cigarettes are all white and they’re prettier.
OTTENBERG: How many a day?
OWENS: Oh, like eight.
OTTENBERG: Wow. First thing you do when you wake up?
OWENS: Make coffee.
OTTENBERG: How do you take your coffee?
OWENS: Black, espresso.
OTTENBERG: Same. Okay. Tell me about your gym routine—wait, we already did Donna Summer. FYI, I’m going to wear a silicone abs muscle outfit when I’m modeling your Moncler collab because I’m feeling fat, and I don’t want to go on Ozempic because I don’t think that’s hot for me. It’s the same as Botox.
OWENS: It’s totally valid to do drugs for a week just to get yourself over some kind of hump. I don’t think I would have the body that I did if I hadn’t taken steroids 20, 25 years ago.
OTTENBERG: They set your body right? Look at this. [Lifts up shirt]
OWENS: Oh, my god.
OTTENBERG: That’s not giving steroids. Rick, it’s fat.
OWENS: Yeah, but that’s giving a different kind of hotness. There’s a market for that.
OTTENBERG: Yeah, I do fine. I just want to look good in clothes. But this is not about me. It’s about you. What do you like to eat?
OTTENBERG: Oh my god, you’re in Venice. Harry’s Bar, that fucking cake.
OWENS: You know I get those to go.
OTTENBERG: Wow. So you have that body right now and you still eat that Harry’s Bar cake because you took steroids 25 years ago. We are really teaching the people things today. Wait, what is that cake called?
OWENS: Vanilla cream meringue.
OTTENBERG: I haven’t eaten sugar in 51 days, but I will definitely be eating that cake again soon. What’s your favorite internet rabbit hole?
OWENS: God, I can’t think of one. Porn, I guess. Porn will lead you to different kinds of porn, to different kinds of porn, and I’m always going, “How many different combinations can I look at?” And then an hour later, it’s—
OTTENBERG: Right. You’re still looking an hour later. What’s your favorite body part, Rick?
OWENS: Of mine or of somebody else’s?
OWENS: I guess my tits are pretty good.
OTTENBERG: They are.
OWENS: I’ve been wearing a lot of deep v-necks and I show my tits a lot. I’m not going to have them forever, so I’m going to work them while I can.
“I want to end up looking like a sleazy creep.”
OTTENBERG: Thoughts on plastic surgery for yourself, for others?
OWENS: I haven’t done surgery, but I’ve tried procedures that are supposed to be good for your skin, and it was so dark. I didn’t even know what the process was called, but it’s like a needle under your—I’ll have to find out what the name of this procedure is. They move the needle around and inject lord knows what. They had to put Novocaine in, and then I’m going, “Wait. My teeth feel like they’re decomposing. I can hear they’re turning to sand.” Is that—
OTTENBERG: Is that good?
OWENS: I really trust this guy in Paris, and he goes, “That happens. Don’t freak out.” But I was, because I was thinking, “What have I been talked into?” It was like being in a k-hole. I was going, “I’m not coming back from this.” It was so dark and scary, and the last time I ever did anything. But I have never done fillers. I’ve done Botox, but to be honest, I couldn’t really tell the difference that much, so I just stopped.
OWENS: Fillers always end up looking fat. My guy was going, “There’s a gauntness there that we could fill in.” And I’m going, “But that gauntness is who I am.”I want to end up looking like a sleazy creep.
OTTENBERG: Right. I’m really fascinated by these square jaws. They’ve taken over America. It’s like they fill your jaw with some cement and then they smush it into a square. Someone said I already have that kind of jaw, which I appreciate.
OWENS: I was just going to say you and I are okay because we’ve got square jaws, so we don’t have to worry about it.
OTTENBERG: Right. What are you watching on TV?
OWENS: I just watched the last Downton Abbey and we’re going to keep watching The Great with Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great. It’s pretty funny.
OTTENBERG: It is pretty funny.
OWENS: But it’s also very impressive. The costumes and the sets and the scenery are just top-notch, beautiful.
OTTENBERG: What’s your favorite club?
OWENS: Of all time? I was just thinking about this, and Michèle [Lamy, Owens’s wife] and I used to go to Sally’s Hideaway in Times Square. Do you remember Sally’s Hideaway?
OTTENBERG: Sally’s is pre–my time, but the pictures are burned into my head of the dolls in front of Sally’s. Incredible.
OWENS: There was Sally’s Hideaway and then Sally’s II. And I was having these visualizations of the dance floor there and the weird strip shows, and also the Spotlight bar in Hollywood Boulevard, and how Michèle and I used to go there a lot. I was thinking, “Wow, we ran this history of super sleazy dive bars.”
“I’ve been wearing a lot of deep v-necks and I show my tits a lot.”
OTTENBERG: I’ve been friends with you guys for so long, I have met you together or separately on a lot of 7 a.m., 8 a.m. dance floors. Michèle is such a good dancer. She’s one of the best, as are you.
OWENS: Actually, we just went dancing last Saturday night. They’re doing these things at the Bourse de Commerce, the museum in Paris. There’s this really good basement, and last Saturday, DJ Yousuke Yukimatsu from Japan was playing there. The only reason I found out about this space was because I hired him to DJ this party that I’m going to be having in Japan in October. I’m doing a party in Japan in October, by the way. You’re invited.
OWENS: Anyway, so we went to go check him out, and it’s part of an art event, so it ended at 12:30, but Michèle and I get there at 11 because that’s when he went on, and he was so fucking good. That’s the last time I went dancing.
OTTENBERG: I love dancing. What’s the best place for people-watching?
OWENS: The airport is always interesting. It’s like being at a rock concert. It’s everybody from anywhere and no matter how fabulous you are, you all have to go piss in that tiny
stupid bathroom on the airplane.
OTTENBERG: Where do you go to hide, Rick?
OWENS: Oh, my Moncler sleep pod.
OTTENBERG: Oh my god, absolutely. Alright, I’m going to stop talking to you now because we’ve been talking for 90 minutes and I want the whole thing to go in the magazine, but I could talk to you forever. Will you have a party during Paris [Fashion Week] so we can dance?
OWENS: Come to the house the night of the show. I know we’re having a dinner, I don’t know how big it is, but come.
OTTENBERG: Well, big or small, I’ll be there. Love you, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.
OWENS: Well, we needed an excuse to catch up anyway.
OTTENBERG: Fantastic. Alright. Bye, Rick. Love you.
OWENS: Bye. Love you.