But Owens felt guilty for excluding his community by moving to a more exclusive scale. Says Owens, “I thought, Oh, I have to rectify this. And how do I rectify it? Invite them all to be in the show!” It’s about 45 minutes before what is clearly shaping up to be one of his most unforgettable spectacles in a career full of them, and Owens has a lot of models to get through. He looks around for more dark fashion druids and wraiths that he hasn’t zhuzhed yet. “I just had them change the music to make it harder,” he says over the hyper techno track blaring in the background.

Owens planned a collection of ten looks that were repeated twenty times each, all in various shades of cream. (Owens figured his typically dark palette would look too sinister.) Backstage, I’m surrounded by airy chiffon capes, hooded biker jackets, denim textured with a crusty gold coating, silky vampiric coats and habit-like robes, and spidery knit bodysuits, all of which cling in various combinations to the 200 shapes and sizes of his cast, made up of some Rick Owens runway regulars but mostly by the local design students who idolize him and his avant-garde citadel of righteous independent fashion. “It was an exercise in figuring out how to accommodate every single body type and how to make, but how to make it a Rick Owens look,” he said later.

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“Are you a student?” he asks another hooded figure. The baby-faced model, who sounds a bit more nervous than he looks, says he goes to the Institut Français de la Mode. “I’ve never visited IFM, I probably should at some point. Excuse me, I’m going to be a little rough.” Owens grabs his hood with both hands and crushes it around the young man’s collarbone.

The title of the collection is “Hollywood,” the place where Richard Owens of small-town Porterville, CA reinvented himself as Rick Owens. I note his shows have been autobiographical of late—January was an angsty ode to his hometown. “That’s right,” he says. “The more I see the fashion world evolve and how impossible it is for anyone to have a singular voice, the more I realize that that’s our strength. Our strength is that this is a one- man show instead of a committee decision, and so I emphasize that and I celebrate it. And I feel like that’s why people come to me, because it feels personal. They know that it’s not strategy or calculation or… um… do I want to use the word ‘falseness’?”

He’s prepping the models to walk in regimented formation around the Art Deco courtyard outside in his interpretation of the title character’s entrance into Rome in pioneering black-and-white auteur Cecil B. DeMille’s 1934 film Cleopatra. “If you watch that movie, which I do a lot, it is so sumptuous, you can even see the way the fabrics fall that they don’t make fabrics like that anymore. It’s just opulence, opulence, opulence. That was my fantasy in Porterville, that was where I wanted to end up,” he says. Propelled by DeMille’s allegories of “lurid sin” and “moral redemption,” Owens ended up living in seedy circumstances off Hollywood Boulevard.

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