(Photograph by Irving Penn, 2003)
I met Olivier Theyskens ones in Paris, many years ago. I was walking the streets with a friend, who was modeling at the time and knew Olivier. I had seen pictures of his work and admired his style, but at the moment we met I didn’t know he was the Olivier Theyskens and just stood there fascinated by his beautiful androgynous face…
Born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1977, Olivier Theyskens decides at a very early age he wants to design Haute Couture. His parents are always very supportive of his dreams. At eighteen he registers at Brussels’ prestigious La Cambre school of visual arts, but two years later he drops out because he thinks he’s wasting his time and his parents money. He starts his own label Olivier Theyskens. His first collection is titled Gloomy Trips.
(garment from first collection is titled Gloomy Trips)
Olivier believes in design for design’s sake. So much so that he creates his debut collection in 1997 with no intention of ever selling it. When the fashion director of Barneys New York approaches with an offer to buy the entire line, wholesale, the stubborn 20-year-old will not budge: Yes, his Gothic garments can go on display in the windows of the chic department store’s Manhattan flagship, but the sales floor? No.
His first collections are often referred to as ‘Gothic extravaganzas’. “My first collection was made from sheets that my grandmother, who lived in Normandy, had been collecting for a long time”: Olivier tells later. His cutting-edge vision quickly makes him one of the most acclaimed and respected designers of his generation.
(for 15 years this ‘Melissa auf der Mauer wearing Olivier Theyskens’ picture hangs on my ‘inspiration-wall’)
One year later stylist Arianne Phillips sees photographs of his collection and dresses Madonna in his black silk satin coatdress for the Academy Awards and this brings his name to public attention.
Olivier Theyskens collection s/s 1999 (part 1 & 2)
But without sufficient financial support, Olivier is forced to close his label in 2002. He begins costuming an opera for the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, but is soon recruited by Rochas, to become the houses’s new creative director.
For Rochas, Olivier designs collections inspired by “elements of lace, a Parisian couture approach, a femininity that is very intellectual and very beautiful but not that girly.” His brief is to modernize the brand, making it more hip.
Debut collection Rochas f/w 2003
While Olivier’s dark aesthetic softens and gives a more romantic feel during his tenures at Rochas (and Nina Ricci), his approach is met with some criticism and is ultimately not sustainable. He is a champion of “demi- couture”—creating clothes for the retail market using techniques from the haute couture atelier. It is certainly an appealing concept, but hours of hand-stitching or embroidery drives the price of his pieces up and out of the range of his target customer. Olivier also takes a purer approach to fashion and doesn’t rely, like many fashion houses, on accessory sales for a reliable source of revenue. Olivier’s refusal to create a marketable accessories line, combined with the fact that he undermines the importance of advertising makes his position by Rochas very difficult.
In 2006 Rochas fashion division is discontinued by the line’s parent company, Proctor & Gamble, even though Olivier receives the CFDA International Award for his work at Rochas. A couple of months later he is appointed creative director at Nina Ricci.
Olivier’s first show for the House of Nina Ricci established him as being somewhat wiser in a business perspective. “He is now aware of the fact that fashion needs to address a younger, more casual level of dressing.” This is in stark contrast to the couture-like dresses he created for Rochas.
In March 2009, seven months before the end of his contract, Olivier is dimissed from Nina Ricci by the parent company, Puig.
Debut collection Nina Ricci a/w 2007
In 2010 Olivier designs the capsule collection for Theory (a Japanese owned, New York based company), which is loved by the public and is almost sold out (this rarely happens anymore in economical difficult times).
Olivier is appointed Artistic Director of the global Theory brand, as well as Head Designer of the Theyskens’ Theory collections. He’s also gaining creative control of everything from accessories to menswear. He has matured, and lessons had to been learned: “It’s about designing fashion that makes it more affordable, more accessible.” This brand allows him to offer a new point-of view on modern fashion.
Theyskens’ Theory is a worldwide succes.
Debut collection Theyskens Theory s/s 2011