Editor's Note: Eugene Rabkin, the founder of fashion forum StyleZeitgeist, and designer Rick Owens first met when Rabkin was writing a story on the esteemed designer. Recently, the two caught up about StyleZeitgeist's 10th anniversary and the current state of fashion. We received the resulting discussion from Owens' team, and are honored to exclusively publish the intimate conversation between them on Highsnobiety.
I first met Eugene, the founder of StyleZeitgeist, when he interviewed me in Paris for an Israeli newspaper. I have previously mentioned that I read the thread on his forum about my work in some magazine interview, and Eugene told me he was the forum’s founder. We stayed in touch ever since. StyleZeitgeist will celebrate its 10th anniversary this month, and I realized that I don’t know all that much about it, so we decided to FaceTime. Below is our conversation.
Eugene Rabkin: Hi Rick! Are you at your factory in Italy?
Rick Owens: Hi Eugene! Yes, I am. Hold on, I am putting the phone on a tripod. We are doing a furniture exhibit in MOCA in Los Angeles, so I did this little documentary on my day in the factory. I was able to shoot myself on my phone cutting the fabric and draping it on the mannequin, which ended up with one of my favorite pieces from the runway show. It came out really nice, so we’re going to show it in this exhibition. But, anyway, wasn’t I supposed to be asking you questions?!
ER: Yes, go ahead!
RO: So, you never told me how you started StyleZeitgeist.
ER: Well, I was already a fashion fan and I was looking for like-minded people, because in my so-called real life I did not know people who liked that type of fashion, which was all too black, and too weird, and too Belgian and Japanese.
I already had a bit of a reputation on other fashion forums, so some people joined me and than it kind of snowballed and became this force in the fashion avant-garde. I was thrilled to find out that you read your own thread! That’s how I plucked up the courage to tell you that it’s my forum when we first met in 2009.
RO: I think forums are great. It’s a weird thing to overhear a conversation about yourself. But, the bottom line is that these people are really interested; they get the image and they get very opinionated and it turns into squabbles. You know that’s human nature, that’s life. Still, it’s very flattering to capture somebody’s interest and you have to be grateful for that.
ER: I agree. I also think the people who participate on the forums, they are the most passionate ones. As a creator you operate in public domain and you have customers from all walks of life, but those guys are the hardcore fans, and they are most precious because they become this tribe that you carry on a creative conversation with.
I feel like a lot of people who are really into your universe, there is sort of a connection that develops between you and them, even if you never met them in your life.
RO: I totally agree, it’s a conversation. But the thing about the most passionate, I don’t want to use the word follower, but the people that are most interested in it; I’m afraid it’s inevitable that they are the ones that will turn on you at some point. It happens in the blink of an eye.
You reach a saturation point where people resent having to share you more with people who they think are not as connected and so they end up with a feeling of resentment.
ER: Yeah, it’s always the conundrum. It’s like sharing your favorite band with people who might not fully understand its music.
RO: But you can’t stay in one place. If you stay in one place you die. So you have to move forward. And the more you move forward the more people become aware of you, and it’s a catch 22. I’m really conscious of not doing something just for the sake of moving forward.
But bottom line is, I want to have fun. And I want to enjoy what I’m doing.
ER: I completely agree. And that’s why I started the StyleZeitgeist magazine.
RO: How did that happen?
ER: The idea came from a conversation from my friend Florian Schmitt, whom I met on the forum. We were reminiscing about the old days of magazines like i-D and The Face and Purple when they were in their prime. And he said, “You know, no one does anything like that anymore that feels so fresh. You should give it a shot. You are a good writer, you have StyleZeitgeist, and you have all of these relationships.”
So, I started thinking about it and I met another forum member, Daniel Franco, who also wanted to start a magazine, and together we decided to give it a go. And that’s how I asked you to contribute to the first print issue–remember that article you wrote about your role models?
RO: I do remember that! Alice Cooper, Divine, Madame Gres, and so on. You know, the reason i-D and The Face were so fresh then though was because they were isolated. There weren’t 5000 magazines like that, and now there are. I mean the fashion calendar wasn’t like this ten years ago. The whole fashion thing is so oversaturated. I would really think twice about being a fashion designer if I was young right now, especially being an independent fashion designer the way I started it.
I mean nowadays, who could possibly do that? And it’s the same with magazines. Unless you have major backing and connections there’s just too much competition out there. It’s an oversaturated field. But what you guys are doing with the forum; that is pretty unique. I mean there are other forums out there, but of all of the forums out there of that level, there’s maybe three total.
ER: It’s true. There wasn’t an avant-garde, lack for a better word, forum for men before I started StyleZeitgeist. And if you look for example at SuperFuture, it was a forum where people talked about streetwear. It was all about Japanese denim and sneakers. There was no SuperFashion section, which was created as a reaction to StyleZeitgeist, because it was the time when the crossover between runway fashion and streetwear was beginning.
So, people would wear your sneakers with Japanese denim and a t-shirt. And I think you caught that moment. I remember my friend saying, “Rick can put you in denim and cotton jersey and you will be the coolest person in the room,” and that’s exactly it.
RO: That’s a super interesting to say! So, are you still doing print?
ER: No, at some point we were struggling with print because we weren’t getting much advertising and we were doing a small print run. At the end we just thought, we keep doing this incredible thing but it’s so hard, why don’t we move everything online where things are going anyway?
So that’s what we did for the past two years or so. So the fifth issue was our last, that’s the one in which we photographed your library and you wrote about your favorite books.
RO: Yeah, it was nice. I love books. By the way, Michele [Lamy, Rick Owens’s partner] told me that she was spending time with you at the New York store.
ER: Yes, we spent an hour sitting and talking on that massive staircase. Fans were coming in and paying homage. This one boy, I thought he was going to faint. He was saying, “Oh my god, oh my god, it’s you! I saw you in the FKA twigs video. What’s your name?”
RO: I probably take Michele for granted a little bit and I forget how fantastic she is. She really is a little magic creature. It’s amazing how much power and energy she packs. So, besides writing, how much work does StyleZeitgeist take on your part? Is there a lot of work behind the scenes that I don’t know about?
ER: Yes, I’m still very much involved day-to-day. I moderate the forum and consistently post on it, besides writing most stories for the magazine and contributing to other publications. But, I think being easily accessible on the forum is part of the appeal.
For a lot of these forums it’s either like an absentee landlord or a guy who’s just made it to make money. I’ve been approached to sell StyleZeitgeist and I have turned everyone down.
RO: But maintaining the forum is not a chore for you because you’re genuinely interested.
ER: I love it, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. You know sometimes people still tell me, “Oh, you are on the way to making it.” And, I’m like, “I’ve already fucking made it. I do what I love–what more can one ask for? A SoHo loft? Who cares.”
RO: Okay, how do you make a living on a forum?
ER: I have 15 boutiques that advertise with me.
RO: Oh, that’s fantastic. And smart, because that’s their customer.
ER: To be honest, it was an accident. When I started StyleZeitgeist I never thought it would make money. I had this horrible Wall Street job and StyleZeitgeist provided refuge from my soulless existence. One day a store approached me to advertise on the forum, and a light bulb went off for me. At the same time I started writing about fashion and culture, and my writing career started to take off.
And I still meet people who know me only as a writer, or know the magazine but don’t know the forum. So, one of the things we’re doing as part of the 10th anniversary is relaunching www.stylezeitgeist.com, as a brand new website that will combine the magazine and the forum and the little e-commerce site I have into one. This way people will understand that StyleZeitgeist is one universe.
Also, we are going to open a pop-up shop in Greenwich Village, and by the way, thank you for making a special bag for us. I’ve collaborated with a bunch of other designers whom we have championed over the years, like Ann Demeulemeester, Boris Bidjan Saberi, Iris van Herpen, and many others on exclusive products. So much what I do is digital, and it’s very nice to do something in 3D.
RO: It’s all about universe-building, isn’t it?
ER: For people like you and I it is. I think that our work parallel in a way that it is aesthetic universe building. What would the world according to Rick Owens look like? We can see that clearly. It’s the same for me, but in a different medium.
Basically, I interpret what’s inside me through music that I listen to, art that I love, books that I read, and in the end clothes that I wear. And you know when the light bulb went off for me about what clothing can do? It’s when I saw “March of the Pigs” video by Nine Inch Nails in ’94. I was blown away and I thought, “What that guy is wearing, and the music, and the lyrics, it all goes together.”
That’s when I started thinking about clothing seriously, as beyond something that merely makes you look good. And one day, around ’98-’99, I walked into Barneys, and I saw the clothes by Ann Demeulemeester, Raf Simons, Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, and that was my rabbit hole through I am still falling. It was an infinitely more elegant version of this sort of gothy gear that I was already wearing.
RO: I think what’s nice about all of this is aesthetics transitioning into values. That’s what makes it so engaging.
ER: Yes, and also about finding people you can share these values with. I am incredibly lucky that so many people have contributed to the forum. Do you remember how you began developing your aesthetic? What was driving you at the time?
RO: I had a lot of classical influences. I had classical music and opera and literature, but I also liked sleaze. And putting it together, sleaze and glamour, it just made sense to me. Speaking of sleaze, I’m kind of excited because there’s a new element of sleaze in fashion with Gosha Rubchinskiy and Demna Gvasalia, which I appreciate a lot.
There’s something a little new and fresh, and it’s a little bit indefinable, but that’s why it’s disturbing us and offending us. But there’s something engaging about it. I feel like we went through this period, and I’m not talking about our kind of fashion but fashion in general, that it was very much about the teenage girl’s bedroom. And I’m glad to see it going into a little bit of a sleaze direction.
Sure, they’re referencing their elders, that generation of Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela that they were too young to experience. But, they’re going in a direction that’s the right for fashion. So you can’t plainly dismiss them. You know in five years they are going move it forward in their own way.
ER: I was into Vetements for the first three seasons, but then they just started pumping out tees and sweatshirts with logos and all these ironic slogans on them, and I just can’t get behind it. But, hey, they are giving people what they want, Instagrammable fashion.
I understand that at the end of the day, mass taste is mass taste and if you want to dip into that you’re going to have to do some watering down. That’s fine, as long as it allows you to put brilliant stuff on the runway. And I don’t even have to like it, but it has to make me think. That’s all I ask for.
RO: But I don’t even know what’s brilliant in fashion anymore. There are too many voices. And we’ve seen it all with clothes. I mean how much further can you go? And if there are so many voices, how do you take your place? You take your place by a defined stance.
I think that the new thing isn’t going to come in a way we recognize it. It’s going to come in some different form. But I’m an optimist, too.
ER: We have to be optimistic. I think the moment we get jaded we might as well shut up shop. When people talk about my writing, they get the impression that I love being critical.
I actually don’t. I just want people to do better. I want us to live in an interesting world. And that’s what StyleZeitgeist is about.
The StyleZeitgeist 10th Anniversary Pop-Up is Open from September 10-30 at Atelier New York. The full line of collaborative products with designers like Rick Owens, Ann Demeulemeester, Boris Bidjan Saberi, Iris Van Herpen, and GUIDI can be seen below.