Portrait: Billy Farrell/BFAnyc.com; Runway, from left: Don Ashby (4); Theory (2)
Since Olivier Theyskens exudes an edgy romanticism with his poetic long hair, he has always seemed like a Belgian goth. At the end of the last century, when he was a 21-year-old prodigy, he made clothes with a hint of darkness and dressed Madonna in a long frock coat for the 1998 Academy Awards.
Now, at age 34, he is making cool clothes for his own generation, creating a 21st-century version of American sportswear as designer for his own Theyskens’ Theory label and for the giant Theory company, which is under the umbrella of the Japan-based Fast Retailing group.
Most of the years between were dedicated to luxury style at the Parisian houses of Rochas and Nina Ricci, both built on successful fragrances and an invitation to Theyskens to make hyper-romantic clothes. Typically his shows would present a young woman with feathers in her hair, balanced on stiltlike shoes while her long dress puddled into a train. “When I am doing clothes, I like to imagine I am her,” the designer says.
Theyskens likes to dispel most of the received wisdom about himself. No, he was never a goth during his time in Brussels and his brief passage through the city’s La Cambre fashion school. The word “Gothic” resonated for him only as Belgian churches with thin pinnacles pushing up into the sky.
I remember from those early years black leather jackets, taut as corsets, set off by black pearls, lace and astrakhan; or long dresses, cut from his family’s collection of antique linen sheets and shown in a crumbling, gilded Paris mansion. Theyskens leapt to the international fashion stage in the late 1990s, and then made a relatively quiet start at Rochas in 2002. I later watched him tinting fabrics in his tiny studio, creating pastel Impressionist patterns that evoked Claude Monet water lilies at Giverny.
Without ever reaching for the drama of John Galliano’s wild creativity at Dior, Theyskens produced moments of fashion enchantment. Dresses might be wisps of chiffon and lace, floating over a bared back. Their delicacy and decency in an era of “girly” vulgarity is Theyskens’s Parisian legacy.
The idea of capturing fantasy in a perfume bottle — or a dress — made sense at Rochas. But its parent company, Procter Gamble, gave up on fashion in 2006. At Nina Ricci, the designer was able to nurture his love of Victoriana and disheveled glamour. His last show for Ricci, in 2009, was typical in the teetering platforms below long dresses, silvered, as if caught in moonlight.
Theyskens talks serenely about the closure of the fashion division at Rochas and the abrupt end of his contract at Ricci after critical acclaim. The relationship between his years in Europe and the fresh start in New York is summed up in the title of the book he published last year: “The Other Side of the Picture.” The designer cut all the patterns for his early collections (as he still often does today). And he was never wedded to the idea of high fashion: he always wanted his “cool girl” (he never refers to her as a “woman”) to be able to buy his clothes at an easy price and mix the pieces in her own way.
“I had to do a lot of things on my own, to make it happen,” Theyskens says. “I was the pattern maker from Day 1. I’ve been for a few years obsessed by making the right pant — simple things, done with subtlety and research.”
The “cool pants” — a hipster trouser with a panel that rises to the natural waist — dominated the spring-summer 2012 Theyskens’ Theory collection in New York. The models’ legs were elongated by ridiculously high platform shoes that recalled the Ricci years. The difference is, of course, that Andrew Rosen, chief executive of Theory, brought Theyskens on to make feminized sportswear to sell at realistic prices. The madness of the footwear had become what the designer calls “a bridge between clothes and design — part of a fetish.” The show ended with the models stomping out in combat boots, to prove that he could do feminist femininity, too.
Theyskens’ Theory is filling the gap between so-called fast fashion and high-end clothes that are 10 times more expensive. Prices are not rock bottom, but Theyskens says that he has achieved his aim to “do clothes in proper way, at a proper price, and in proper quality, not preciously made, but with the integrity of affordable fashion.”
Related: Morning T with Olivier Theyskens
Article source: http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/30/oliviers-twist/