Let’s be honest here: we wouldn’t be talking about a macabre 25 year-old skeleton-tattooed performer if it weren’t for a certain music video from one the most significant cultural icons of our time. In Lady Gaga’s recent Madonna homage Born This Way, the mama monster of corporate radio gives birth to an evilish Rick Genest, also known by his stage name Rico The Zombie. In one scene, she dances alongside her new boy-toy, sporting make-up mimicking Genest’s real life face and skull ink.
And Lady Gaga brought Genest along for the ride, giving a whole new meaning to Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” – online, on TV and in newspapers, Rico The Zombie has become the object of a very unique blend of attention, rumours, envy and full-on admiration.
International media and the fashion press have been quick to frame the story as some kind of fairy tale: last December, Gaga stylist Nicola Formichettistumbles upon Rico’s fan page and contacts him on Facebook to shoot the first images for his menswear collection as the newly-appointed creative director of legendary Paris-based house Mugler. Genest is evasive on the extraordinary circumstances that brought him to become the new face of a rejuvenated French fashion company.
After the Mugler shoot, Formichetti requests to have Rico fly to Paris to walk the menswear show on January 19th. There is a slight setback: Genest has no passport and is bogged down by fines to his name totalling well over $10,000 in many Canadian provinces. Formichetti agrees to cover the necessary expenses: he basically makes him a free man. To fast-track the process, Genest and TRUSST hire an immigration lawyer who subsequently becomes his manager. On January 19th, Chateauguay-raised Rick Genest stars in his first ever Paris fashion show. His tattoos, the very reason why he was thrust into the limelight, were paid for with money he scraped together by washing cars.
“My friends think I’m rich now,” says Genest with a smirk. But that’s not the case.
Rico still shares an apartment with friends in a loft near the train tracks in Saint-Henri. “You can jam all night long, there are no chances that the cops might come. And somebody in the block is having a party every night. On weekends, you can jump from apartment to apartment. It’s pretty cool.”
Rico The Zombie isn’t as soulless as his name and multiple deathly tattoos (which include a nuclear danger sign and critters) would lead you to believe. The guy is lively, in both a naive and wise way, with a glimmer in his eyes and a surprisingly handsome smile. He talks in an assertive yet respectful manner, and his soft-spoken tone is indicative of someone who has seen his fair share of pavement and sidewalks as a street punk. He’s also more at ease answering questions in English than in French. In person, the tattoos make it harder to figure whether Rico is short and muscular or just lean, almost frail. He’s not tall; his body seems like it’s not fully grown. When I ask him about tolerating pain each time he gets a new tattoo, he says: “It takes a lot of practice. It finds me. It comes with the job.”
Rick Genest is a punk-rocker at heart: pop music and fashion are not his world. “I’m pretty open-minded. You can take the good and the bad in everything: music, sports, arts... even drugs!”, he says, laughing.
By inking our collective fear of death all over his body, Rick Genest is challenging our relationship with time and beauty. If he doesn’t think much about the future, he acknowledges that everyone has a past. About beauty, he adds: “I don’t know. There’s a lot of beauty.” Pointing to the other side of the street: “That rusted, dismantled bike that’s been tied to the pole all winter, that’s pretty cool. Beauty... it’s broken bicycles.”
Art, time, beauty... What’s the most important thing to you, Rico? “Keeping it real. Respecting your people. Your friends, your family. Those who are yours.” And Montreal? “Of course, I love Montreal. It taught me everything I know.”
source: we heart it; http://www.nightlife.ca