After the call images of a 20-something guy with hair spiked into a dozen peaks and a nose ring connected to his earring light up my phone screen. “This is exactly how he looked when I first met him. We were both 20 or something. He kind of represented that world of punk authenticity to me.” In the four decades since, Owens and Athey have remained friends. Two more phone alerts reveal the artist, now living in London, wearing a glimmering coat from Owens’s spring 2019 Babel collection.
Owens’s recollections of growing up an aspiring punk in California are definitely a “you really had to be there” moment. But that’s part of the appeal of Doc Martens—the tough boots have been an entrée for many into the worlds of style, self-expression, sexuality, and music.
The Dr. Martens collab completes a trifecta of every-person shoes that Owens has put his spin on; first came Birkenstocks and Converse, and now Docs. Previously, he did projects with Adidas and Veja. “There are people, I think, who see me doing these collabs and think I’m a sell-out. I get it,” he says. “But I also think of it as corrupting from within. If we’re able to, with each of our collaborations, encourage companies to push a little further with their ethical thinking, with their sustainability—that’s a great thing. We can push the envelope from inside.”
Becoming more mainstream is something that Owens has touched on of late. “I’m not exactly niche,” he told me during an Instagram Live chat in January. At the time I balked, but, you know, he’s right. In the same way Docs are a gateway drug into style, so Rick has become an entry point into fashion. It’s always evolving: His Geobasket kids have become Kiss Boot kids; maybe they’ll become Dr. Martens kids too.
When asked where he bought his own first pair of gateway drug Docs, Owens couldn’t remember. “You know I don’t ever think I went into Poseur!” he says of the foundational punk store on Melrose Ave. “I was afraid I would be found out, that I wasn’t a real punk.”
Who can’t relate? When I was growing up, trying to emulate Courtney Love and Gwen Stefani, I would loiter outside of Trash and Vaudeville on Saint Mark’s Place rather than go in, lest they find out I was “just a teenager from New Jersey.”
Laughing, Owens says, “We’re all just a teenager from New Jersey!”