Rick Owens and Miley Cyrus on Rock Stars, Recklessness, and Life on the Road
When you’ve amassed enough notoriety in fashion, just a surname will do. Chanel. Versace. Dior. And then there’s Rick. Since launching his eponymous line in 1994, Rick Owens, one of the last great American independent designers, has broken from tradition by cultivating the unlikeliest persona: a black-leather-clad, Brâncuși-and-Beuys–summoning, Brutalist-loving necromancer who is not only approachable, but exuberant; a mad genius of sophisticated, Area 51–inflected draping who calls his wife, Michèle Lamy, “Hun”; a dark lord next door. At 57, after nearly two decades in Paris, the California native returned to Los Angeles as part of a collaborative experiment with the Italian label Moncler. Owens and Lamy stepped off the plane at LAX and onto a souped-up, matte-black bus that ferried them to Michael Heizer’s ranch in Nevada so they could marvel at “City,” a land-art piece 48 years in the making. The custom vehicle that drove them there—outfitted with padded walls and Moncler duvets, all rendered in the designer’s preferred palette of hushed grays—is available for purchase, although, Owens says, “Of course, it’s expensive.” Less expensive are the clothes that Moncler made for them to wear on the trip, extraterrestrial down-filled interpretations of existing Owens silhouettes. To commemorate the project, Owens got on the phone with someone else who knows a thing or two about life on the road. They call her Miley. —NICK HARAMIS
RICK OWENS: Where are you?
MILEY CYRUS: I’m calling you from my bed.
OWENS: You’re calling me from your bed?
CYRUS: Well, actually, I’m calling you from someone else’s bed.
OWENS: Is there a story behind that?
CYRUS: There is a story behind it. We’ve been working on a Metallica cover album and I’m here working on that. We’re so lucky to be able to continue to work on our art during all of this. At first, it felt uninspiring and now I’ve been totally ignited. Have you been feeling the same way?
OWENS: I absolutely agree with you. I think in times of hardship, you have to step up your game and fight back, and creating is the strongest way to do that. I’m completely invigorated and energized.
CYRUS: Me fucking too. Who are your top-three favorite rock stars?
OWENS: [David] Bowie, of course. There was a period when all I listened to was Motörhead, so Lemmy [Kilmister]. And Iggy Pop.
CYRUS: People ask me who I’ve studied for my movement on stage, and I always say Iggy Pop.
OWENS: He inspires me never to wear a shirt. I just have to say, that performance you did with Wayne Coyne at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards, that was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It was just so delirious and reckless.
CYRUS: I have such a healthy and sexy relationship with recklessness right now. I can say yes to anything. It would take something really fucking crazy for me to say no. Wayne really opened that door for me, because I was on the Bangerz tour at that time, where I was traveling the world. Your levels of fulfillment and depression are so drastic, because you’ve got that two hours where you’re fully captivated and reaching your fullest potential, and then when you come down from it, it’s so hard. Having him and having that psychedelic music changed everything for me.
OWENS: When you’re on tour, are you in your own personal space? Are you on a tour bus or flying private?
CYRUS: They always get hotel rooms and I never stay in them. I always stay on my bus. I make it my zone and do a lot of drawing and painting. I started working on sculpture, which is hilarious to do in a moving vehicle.
OWENS: You ended up customizing your environment inside the bus?
CYRUS: Yeah. The thing that I liked about sculpture was making art out of things that didn’t mean anything to anyone else, things that were considered trash. I think that came from my mom. She was adopted and, in a sense, given away, and she didn’t feel a lot of value. But I totally worship her.
OWENS: That’s a really tender creative expression. But when you perform, it’s more of a powerful blast. Your songs are tender, but your performances are strong.
CYRUS: I usually feel pretty bottled-up, and performing is the only time I get to be myself in my fullest form. It’s a fucking addiction, because when I’m not doing it, I just wish that I was.
OWENS: You’re communicating, and everybody on the planet wants to communicate, so it’s not an addiction. And you’ve had an opportunity to be listened to, which is the most satisfying thing in the world.
CYRUS: This is the longest I’ve ever gone without being on the road. I’ve been touring for the last ten years, and this is the first year that I haven’t done it. Dolly Parton, who’s my godmother, has been touring for the last 40 years, and this is the first time she hasn’t been on the road.
OWENS: Okay, wait. Your godmother is Dolly Parton?
CYRUS: Yeah. She’s the best. She’s the most wickedly creative person. She started making a Christmas album in January because she was so fucking bored in all of this.
OWENS: The album she did with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris? Thank god that happened.
CYRUS: The trio! Speaking of collaboration, how did this project with Moncler happen? How do you decide who to get in bed with?
OWENS: I’ve always been very skeptical about the collab situation. Under the worst circumstances, it’s an obvious marketing gimmick. But they have been doing really creative, extravagant, kind of reckless things. Besides that, I’ve opened up a lot recently, because I’ve been reclusive and insulated long enough. It’s a great way to get out of my little shell. But I only agreed to do it because I wanted a tour bus. I wanted to do an insulated tour bus that was a pure aesthetic expression, like a space capsule or a submarine that would get me from point A to point B in the States. I was invited to see one of Michael Heizer’s installations in Nevada, which was the perfect excuse to fly to the States. I told Moncler, “I’ll get in this tour bus in L.A., and we’ll drive through the desert and go to this installation, and it’ll be an art orgy. The tour bus will be a piece of art, and I’m going to make these clothes that match the tour bus. Then we’re going to turn the tour bus around and get back on the airplane and leave. Moncler is going to understand that, because that’s the kind of company you are.” And they did. They are interested in art and performance. I’m not saying this was performance art, but that was very much on my mind when I was doing it.
CYRUS: I grew up on a tour bus. I went with my dad everywhere. He turned it into a playhouse for us. They had some stairs you could go down to get under the bus, where the luggage would be, and he created a place for me and my brother to go and play and imagine and dream. What was your favorite thing about being on the tour bus? Why are you so fascinated with it?
OWENS: Being able to isolate yourself while you’re traveling through some kind of wilderness appealed to me. There’s also something about being very creative while you’re traveling, because there’s a sense of momentum that is stimulating. The fact that you are relieved of day-to-day responsibilities gives you space to let something happen in your brain. I always feel like I’m going to come up with something when I travel. Does that happen to you?
CYRUS: Oh, yeah. I always write songs in the car. I’ve read a lot about healing through movement, because a lot of people like to sit in their feelings, and I’m just not that person. I like to move through them. What did you learn about America on your trip?
OWENS: Not a thing. I probably wasn’t asking any questions. I wasn’t being very perceptive. I was just in my little bubble looking out the window every once in a while, kind of living in my own little world.
CYRUS: You’re from the West Coast, but you hadn’t been back since you moved to Europe. Why did you feel like now was the right time?
OWENS: I hadn’t been back to Los Angeles in 18 years. I was in no great rush because I was having a great time in Europe, and there were so many other places to go. And I suspect that there was a part of me that didn’t want to return to a place where I hadn’t felt fully developed—I didn’t want to be reminded of that time. But there was actually something very fulfilling about going back and feeling more powerful than I did then. I felt a little silly enjoying that so much, but I just relaxed into it and it ended up being really, really nice. I’ll probably go back a little bit more often now.
CYRUS: Where did you stop during the trip?
OWENS: Well, it was pretty quick. It was only, like, three days. We had to stop in Las Vegas, and then we stayed at a ranch in Nevada. We went to Area 51, and then we went to Los Angeles for two days and I had my 57th birthday party there.
CYRUS: Speaking of Area 51, do you believe in extraterrestrial beings?
OWENS: I don’t really, but it seems a little arrogant to assume there’s nobody else but us.
CYRUS: That’s what I fucking think!
OWENS: I haven’t looked into it. Have you?
CYRUS: I had an experience, actually. I was driving through San Bernardino with my friend, and I got chased down by some sort of UFO. I’m pretty sure about what I saw, but I’d also bought weed wax from a guy in a van in front of a taco shop, so it could have been the weed wax. But the best way to describe it is a flying snowplow. It had this big plow in the front of it and was glowing yellow. I did see it flying, and my friend saw it, too. There were a couple of other cars on the road and they also stopped to look, so I think what I saw was real.
OWENS: Well, I don’t know what to say to that. I haven’t seen shit.
CYRUS: I was shaken for, like, five days. It fucked me up.
OWENS: It disturbed you?
CYRUS: I couldn’t really look at the sky the same. I thought they might come back.
OWENS: So you felt threatened?
CYRUS: I didn’t feel threatened at all, actually, but I did see a being sitting in the front of the flying object. It looked at me and we made eye contact, and I think that’s what really shook me, looking into the eyes of something that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. But you’re so right to say that it’s a form of narcissism to think that we’re the only things that could be in this vast universe.
OWENS: To confront something like that would be very disorienting because it really shakes up everything; like, the whole system. I’ll let you know when I see my first UFO.
This article appears in the Fall 2020 issue of Interview Magazine. Subscribe here.
Casting: Bert Martirosyan