To say that Rick Owens is a man who courts controversy would be an understatement. If controversy was sitting at a bar, Rick would be buying it flirtinis and inviting it back to his concrete apartment to check out his fine collection of goat-skin codpieces. But last year the designer found himself at the center of a debacle so sensitive that even he felt the need to distance himself from it. Or, more specifically, from the person who caused it.
Jera Diarc was Rick Owens' friend, muse, model and confidant for more than 12 years, appearing in every one of his catwalk shows and reportedly playing a crucial part in Rick's creative process, simply by virtue of being himself. Working primarily as an artist, not a model, Diarc was by no means your typical member of the fashion elite, and played a part in that world exclusively as a service to Owens himself. As an individual he was an enigma, obscure and mysterious — a truly fitting presence in a brand such as this.
Yet, six months ago, that mysterious presence was thrown into the global spotlight, as Diarc walked for Rick Owens' Spring/Summer 2016 catwalk show in Paris. In an apparently unplanned moment of outspoken rebellion Diarc unfurled a white cloth in front of him as he advanced down the runway, displaying the message: "Please kill Angela Merkel. Not."
Unsurprisingly, the media went into overdrive, with speculation around his motives flying thicker than a rocket full of treacle. Why did he do this? What did it mean? And, most pressingly, did Rick know anything about it beforehand?
In the hours and days that followed, public relations experts worked overtime to defuse the situation. Having failed (unsurprisingly) to keep the story out of the news, a statement from the label emerged that Rick had known absolutely nothing of Diarc's actions prior to him carrying them out, and was reportedly so angry that he punched the model clean in the face the moment he stepped off the catwalk. Further retribution was swift; it's fair to say that lead balloons have been dropped slower than Diarc's agency dropped him...
Yet, despite countless attempts by the media to obtain a statement from the Colombian-born model on why exactly he had chosen this moment and this medium to express his (somewhat confusing) political outrage, Diarc himself remained resolutely tight-lipped. While this naturally fanned the flames of intrigue surrounding the whole affair, eventually the world moved on, resigning itself to the fact that this would likely remain yet another large, unsolved curiosity in the labyrinthine fable that is Rick Owens' life.
Until now, that is. Speaking to the press for the first time ever on the matter, Jera Diarc agreed to an interview with writer Michelle Doreen, which you can find right here, exclusively on Highsnobiety. With Rick Owens' latest collection due to be exhibited in Paris tomorrow, does this shed any more light on the matter?
We'll leave you to be the judge of that.
I met Jera Diarc in a coffee bar in Berlin in the afternoon. He was quite polite and friendly, in contrast to what his agency and the "yellow press" have written about him. Before we started the interview he was annoying the waitress in such a funny manner that she gave him her phone number after we finished...
Can you explain the relationship you had with Rick Owens over the past 10 years? When we met the first time, there was this kind of special connection we had. It was in contrast to the other designers. We understood each other. But I didn’t get a wedding present or anything from him!
After I started my art studies, I pressed pause on the modeling stuff. My priorities were different from globetrotting and joining castings, catwalking and standing to attention for photoshoots . After some time, I decided to be there just for Rick, meaning no castings anymore.
Every time I walked for Rick, there was at least a bottle of champagne always waiting for me; never to be asked for by another. I think that’s how I earned the reputation of being a drunk.
People say you were Rick’s muse. What does that mean to you? With what kind of examples/memories would you illustrate this? It’s just a question of which of the muses. I think Euterpe is out. Maybe Thalia or even Klio? But I think in that context of what happened it’s more like Melpomene [all names of Ancient Greek muses].
It feels good to be a muse of someone. Quite a lot better than to be an idol.
What are some examples of the memories you shared with Rick that could sum up your story together?
Once we had a dinner in his house with Michelle [Lamy, Rick's wife]. At three 'o' clock in the morning they ordered a driver to bring me back to my hotel.
Michelle came to me and said “here Jera, I know what you need” and gave me an ice-cold bottle of gin. I don't even like gin, but it was such a nice gesture, you know, like from a lovely and really cool mum. She is great.
But all in all, the modeling is a lot of fun. I earned good money, went to many parties, globetrotted half of the world, got to know a great many people. As a guy, it’s like you’re going on a class trip. Maybe you nailed a hotel room or spent a night in jail somewhere in Tokyo. Nobody cares if you look like you’re just returning from a battle the next day.
Apropos Tokyo, Japanese people have a different sense for business. They go celebrating with you. They get you pickled 'til five in the morning and then they ask you not to shave, not to wash your hair, and to pick them up from their hotel the next day — which basically means one hour later — and then they send you to the catwalk! Very funny, disciplined and hearty people.
Could you explain to us what you were trying to say with the protest last summer?
The press have already started interpreting this broadly. There is no "try," there is just action.
Please .......... kill...not.... makes sense doesn’t it? Art?...Protest?...Or DADA?...
When I’m reading that the campaign is understood as art, great. If media understands it as a political activism, great.
That’s pretty much my kind of activism. Even as fun guerrilla action. I have to smirk and I can say, yes, I really had fun.
I am calling for nothing less than the unconditional surrender! Nothing less than the absolute Revolution! Everything for rock ’n’ roll, everything for art, everything for the cause and the cause is above everything!
Some people say you tried to mirror the message of Rick’s collection, others say it was only a cheap stunt from you. What would you say?
I didn’t know the topic of the show in advance...Obviously, I’m a mirror.
How did you prepare this backstage ?
Through my imagination.
Could you just explain what really happened when you got backstage after the show?
There was a lot of confusion.
Should he wear another outfit for the final walk? For five minutes I wasn’t sure. But after many people came to me — some giving me high-fives and others crying hysterically, screaming, as if someone dropped a bomb — it was pretty clear to me, just put your clothes on and go.
Is that true Rick Owens punched you? If, yes, do you understand why?
I got many requests from the "yellow-press" for a statement on this. I’m not interested in giving them answers. My favorite report was — and I’m not telling the name of the magazine — they said we’d had a homosexual relationship and it wasn’t going very well between us, and that was the reason I showed off.
Yes....! We were lying on the floor pulling each other’s hair.
He said afterwards that you were a "crazy rogue" and a "fucking model." What would you answer to this?
I love the order of the words: "crazy," "rogue"...and "fucking model!"
He also said that he somehow "created this, an environment where provocation is endorsed." Do you agree ?
So you mean like God, who isn’t satisfied with his creation anymore? [smiles]
Come on. You would like to hear some gossip right? I love Rick...his collection...and the memories I can share with him.
Did you go straight back to Germany?
First I was in my hotel, where the receptionists treated me to a beer. After this I got onto a train to Strasbourg and met some friends to celebrate the news about my action.
When I was back in Germany I met a guy who identified me due to press reports, who was an absolute fan of the Paris thing, and thereupon gave me an old, rusty Jaguar! What a crazy, lovely world.
Do you have regrets or no? Do you ever consider that you actually made a mistake that day?
What exactly should I regret? Why should I regret being one of the sparks which is part of the fire?
Also it’s completely irrelevant what I think of that. I serve and act. We serve and act. The dreams we've had for so many years became reality. DON'T OBEY! You shall bend no more! You shall ACT.
Did you expect this kind of media turmoil regarding what you’ve done that very day, during the show?
If it was about sensation, I would have used the media hype. I would've said, “Hi 'yellow-press,' here is a huge line; how much?”
But that’s not my way.
Eventually I should’ve done it [sold my story]. You know, the highest bidder wins, with 90% of the money going to Wikileaks and the rest to me. Or 90% to the “Rote Hilfe” [a German far-left support group for prisoners] or for any organization for homeless people. Or VOINA [a Russian underground art group].
Spontaneous or planned? I just left that hanging. In every case, it was surprising enough to cause some trouble to the Fashion Weeks of 2016. And that’s good.
We’re living in an absolutely adjusted, narrow-minded world again, and are taking thousands of steps back. It’s not bearable anymore. The world seems so bored that they’re discussing if it was sexism to show Leia from Star Wars in a bikini! Everything is so overly intellectual. Everything is ridden to death instead of just doing it. Fun and love with everything. Do do do! Forward forward!
Everyone’s talking about rock n’ roll, but "not in my front garden please." Time has come to demand the unconditional surrender, nothing less than absolute revolution. Good morning world, you can look forward to it.
Could you give an insight into what your life has been like since that day in Paris?
The last few years were quite crazy. A lot happened. Such a field of study brings a lot with it, even unexpected things. And now, painting is great, installations are great. Changing something is great.
My biggest focus is on "Project Concubine" — a music project I’m involved with, which will be released in 2016. [Preview the music here].
Where do you live? What have you been doing for a living?
Where I am...I am at home. What is the saying again? "Wherever I lay my hat down is home?"
I commute from Berlin to Hamburg for the time being. Sometimes I am in Southern France. There is no one place or city I stick to. You can go to the most beautiful place in the world, but when your are surrounded by shit then also the most beautiful place turns into shit.
The people who surround me are important to me. People who have visions, clear aims, people who have ideas and move forward, but also have the courage to do some rubbish.
I earn my money with what I do. And, of course, with my patron, who buys a picture of mine every couple of months.
Do you think what you’ve done changed your routine?
If you ever expected before you stepped into life that you would experience a coherent story, then you were mistaken.
Are fashion and modeling still parts of you life?
I love people who want to change something. Good art, good fashion and everything that comes with it.
At the end of the day, what do you think of Angela Merkel? What’s wrong with her?
I like the question.
Rick Owens Fall/Winter 2016 will be exhibited in Paris tomorrow. Keep an eye on Highsnobiety for full coverage.