When the whispers that Olivier Theyskens would be leaving Nina Ricci, the Parisian house he breathed new life into, just as he did with Rochas, with his darkly romantic sensibility, everyone wondered what he might do next. Perhaps another reputable Parisian house to be rescued and redefined, or, some hoped, a return to his namesake label that brought him to the industry and Madonna’s attention at the age of 20! Well, 14 or so months later and we get an answer, of sorts. The news broke in the States late on Wednesday that Theyskens will design a capsule collection for contemporary brand Theory during the upcoming SS11 season. Gasps were most definitely gasped!
Luckily for us, Theyskens was in London yesterday to sign copies at Liberty of his book “The Other Side of the Picture”, a collection of backstage photography by Julien Claessens spanning 10 years of Olivier’s career. Full of stunning images, it captures the energy and peculiarity of a fashion show and reminds us – not that we needed it – just how much we’ve missed him! Before the signing, we sat down for a chat with a characteristically serene and relaxed Olivier and we asked what we’ve all been waiting to know. What has he been up to in the last year, why Theory, is he bringing back his own label and…does he own a TV? Although cautious at first to talk in detail about Theory, one thing became clear; there is another side to Olivier Theyskens and we can’t wait to see it!
Kiki Georgiou: I guess congratulations are in order, for the book, of course, but also for the news that broke on Wednesday night on your collaboration with Theory!
Olivier Theyskens: Yeah, thank you very much! I’m very, very happy. It also means a lot to me that we have this event around the book, it’s really a project with a lot of emotions, a project that I did with a really good friend of mine [Julien Claessens] that is so talented and a great photographer. I’ve had a lot of people ask me, you know, “What are you doing?”, “How are you doing on your book?”, and I’m always like “Uhm, I’m preparing things, I’m ‘cooking’”. But I’m very happy because today we can be around the book knowing it’s one part of things and there are other parts of things. It’s also important because, I think it’s a beautiful work, but also signifies for me a chapter of my life that Julien fixed on paper and I felt it’s the right moment. It’s a good moment to move on other things and so, voila!
KG: Did going back through Julien’s photographs give you a new perspective on a show or collection?
OT: It gives perspective because every one was a surprise, backstage never looked like how I was seeing it! I was seeing messy and noisy, a lot of agitated people, a sort of chaos, and Julien fixed on precise situations that are sometimes very quiet, things that he saw and I was probably not around at that time.
KG: How does it feel looking back at the last ten or so years?
OT: I have to say, it was a bit strange but it was ok. Also, Julien was there in some particular moments and where there are pictures of those the memories seem brighter! He was on that project for so long, and at that last show [for Nina Ricci’s spectacular AW09 collection] I asked him, “take good pictures because I believe it’s the last one, I think Assouline [the publisher] is ready, we have enough material.”
KG: You’ve had a break from designing since you the last collection for Nina Ricci, for AW09, which is not that long ago and yet, in fashion terms feels like forever!
OT: I never stopped designing! I’ve been creating, between one mission and another. You know, you sometimes have a little bit of time, more time for yourself and you can choose to do what you really like. So I tend to draw. I continue a sort of creative activity, the only thing that I don’t do is work with a team to realise these designs, it’s just virtual!
KG: Is it a relief to not be in the grips of a crazy busy fashion schedule?
OT: It is crazy but I believe that for many designers it’s a comfortable schedule because your mind is always working on something and you’re always looking for ideas. I think when you’re more like an artist, you are more free with your own schedule. I wouldn’t be an artist, I don’t know if I would really make a lot! I take this chance in life to see things from far, to really think; to think that maybe I’d like to change things or maybe I’d like to read, look for a new experience or spend time with friends. I have colleagues that never quit and for forty years they’re working, that’s scary!
KG: So, what have you been doing? I can’t imagine you sitting in the front of a TV eating ice cream from the tub!
OT: I have no TV! I was sitting in front of the TV years ago, drawing collections in front of it. I decided to get rid of it; I haven’t had a TV for five years! I like to travel, I like to see things, I like to also see things that might not be interesting to other people but for me they are. I like to walk around. I like to also be with people that have no connections with my profession, you need a bit of time for that. When you’re working a lot, your real friends are the people that understand you will not call them for six months! These are the friends you keep. When you’re not working you make a lot of friends very quickly but you know that when you will be back working most of them will disappear slowly!
KG: I think everyone wants to know this; are you going to revive your own label? Are you thinking about it, planning it?
OT: Yes, of course! I started doing my own collections and it has always been in my mind and when I was entering into these collaborations with Parisian houses it was always on the side. I want to stay free and be able to do my own brand if I want. But the thing is that when you start such projects it takes all your time and you do it fully. It’s also a good thing to make it the moment you really feel for it. You know, I’ve been thinking about what I would really like to do and what appears today [the announcement with Theory] is also, for me, like a little start again because my name is a bit in it so it’s good!
KG: It must be exciting getting back into the idea of creating a collection.
OT: Yes, and you can be more creative, I don’t have to think about ‘let’s go in Olivier’s direction’, I just do the things that I feel. But when you’re working for a brand you tend to really think about going into that direction. I think that what’s great when you feel you’re working in a place where everything comes natural, that you feel you have a work and an identity that comes naturally out of you.
KG: Is that what Theory is about, because you’ve surprised everyone! We all, of course, expected you to have tons of offers from every single design house, but Theory was probably not the one we’d be on!
OT: (laughs) Yes, of course, because people believe in me being a person that does a certain style of fashion. Also, myself, I feel different. A big part of me is looking for what to work in this brand but it gives me the chance to also do fashions that are on a more accessible pricing, and I have much respect for good clothes, and this is also what attracts me. I feel being into something that was meant to be!
KG: And I guess the clue is the word capsule, right? You’re designing a capsule collection for them.
OT: Yeah, I mean it’s good to have the possibility to give your point of view, that’s why I think I like that it’s called Theyskens for Theory, it’s my own way of doing it.
KG: And coming back to the photographs in the book, showing a body of work of the last 10 years reminds you that things change. So, have you felt that change in your design ideas over the last year or so?
OT: I feel the change when I draw, because when I draw I’m looking for a new excitement but after you take the time to make the whole collection and get used to seeing these new silhouettes, you don’t feel that you’ve changed. When it comes down the catwalk, you see what you were looking for but you don’t have that first strong impression that you had when you were drawing.
“Olivier Theyskens, The Other Side of the Picture” is out now by Assouline.
By Kiki Georgiou