The Welcomed Return of Olivier Theyskens
It was back in 2015 that Olivier Theyskens walked away from his designer gig at the American brand Theory. Since then, the Belgian designer fell off the fashion grid and went on a voyage of self-discovery recharging his creative batteries with a trip to the Amazon and a world tour of art fairs with his friends. Then this past October Theyskens, who once was the creative director at both Rochas and Nina Ricci, returned to the Paris catwalk. But this time he was only interested in writing the next chapter of one sartorial story, that of his long dormant signature brand. Q: What have you been up to since you left the Theory label over a year ago? A: I’ve been working on this. My mind was on it all the time. You see, Theory was always going to be only like a passage, a temporary thing. The only thing that wasn’t clear was how much time I would spend there… I felt like if I had stayed longerI would have been rooted there forever. There was really a moment when I said to myself “yeah I have to do my brand! I have to go do it and make it a priority”. But I also needed to think and get a bit of distance. So I took a sabbatical year.
Q: So what did you do during the gap year? A: It wasn’t the 1st time I did a sabbatical year. I had no sabbatical year between Rochas and Nina Ricci, not even holidays. I remember it was okay but it wasn’t that easy to switch from one thing to another. So, after Ricci, I took a sabbatical year and after Theory I took a sabbatical year, again! (laughing) We live only one time. I travelled a little bit. I visited the Amazon with a very good friend of mine. And I stayed in Latin America; I was in Chile for a long time. I also did systematically all the art fairs. Q: Why was it important to you to go to all those art fairs? A: Because one of my friends is a really good art expert so I took this opportunity to go with him. But, at the same, time I was also thinking about and really focused on the idea of working on my company. I was already going to Italy visiting people and factories. I started to put things on paper. It was a challenge for me. When I was in New York, we had a very small studio for the show collection but I was working with many people. When I was considering what I needed for this brand, I had a very hard time putting together a team that would be less than 25 people, to find a way to condense it. Q: So you were living in New York, what made you decide to come back to Paris? A: I was considering doing it in New York. But the main objective for me was to work again with Italian suppliers. I admire the spirit, the quality, the diversity at different levels of factories you can find there. I worked very closely when I was doing my own brand back in the 1990s and for me it was key to re-bond with them
Q: So, when we met, when you were 20, you just exploded on the scene after Madonna wore one of your signature designs. What is it like now returning home to your brand? A: I don’t know I don’t feel so different. In the back of my mind I always had this desire to continue with it. I always have this sense of feeling of continuity about it. Even during this past gap year I took the time to take care of my archives, to put it properly together. All the pieces, all the drawings, it took time but it’s important to scan everything, to have a minimum of “conservation” of the work you do. It’s not my spirit to look backwards but I felt like “Olivier you have to do it”. When it was finished, I was relieved to know that it was “there”. Q: What was it like to go back through your work and see how you have progressed? A: I like to design with a timelessness aesthetic so it was interesting to see pieces I did in the past that really represented me at that time, and yet they were so clear that they could be worn now. It’s fun to see it again because you only have memories and then you notice things that actually wasn’t as well done as it could have been. We improved so much.
Q: You said you always had at the back of your head you wanted your own brand. But why is it so important to have your own brand and not work instead for a big fashion house? A: In the past I always appreciated thinking about what could be the perspectives of a brand I was design for. And working at houses opened new doors of designs and news possibilities of creations for me. But at the same time, in a way, I wasn’t doing my own thing. I just felt that it is finally time that I make my brand my priority. Q: Looking at your first collection, what was the thinking behind such intimate presentation? You invited only a handful of guests. A: I felt it was important that it feels focused, centered. It just didn’t need to be big; it didn’t need to be splashy. It can be personal. Even in the way I design I don’t to ask myself a million questions. When I am just making the pieces in a very sincere way, without “trying too much.” It’s not like I had a clear strategy that was written out got the show. Sometimes the momentum makes you take a decision. Like the show space was just right across the street from my office. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5FeZmigrrI Q: Was it easy to get back in the grove of designing a collection? A: How I draw can be very unpredictable. The only difficulties, and it’s something a bit silly, is that I need to put myself in a state of mind where I feel terrible. The moment I have to start a new one I always feel very low. I am filled with self-doubt. Like I am so bad. I try to avoid it but it always comes backs so it’s always the same process and then suddenly I start doing something that I feel “Oh, I like that”, I start being into it. Q: And, do you like to work alone when you are coming up with a collection or at a certain time of the day? A: Often, when I draw I sit next to someone else. I like to talk about it. Q: So you’re not off on your own during the middle of the night… A: No, but that still happens sometimes and it is something that brings me a sort of joy. It connects me with the time when I was an adolescent and drawing all by myself. It’s an emotion that I remember but most of the time I find it better to interact because so much information are transmitted at that stage.
Q: With this return collection I found it smart how you were able to balance that amazing couture creativity that you had picked up during your time at Rochas and Nina Ricci, but also balanced it with the contemporary design needs of a brand like Theory. It was almost as if we were watching these two pieces of your life coming together. Can you talk about that? A: When I was in Theory, I was always saying to Andrew [Rosen] “you need to see my own stuff.” It was very pure, without tricky details. I was happy to be in a brand looking for that. Now you have merchandisers looking for valeur ajoutée. We’re not Christmas trees guys! It was the case at Theory, I was liberated, not to have this valeur ajoutée but at the same time there were many valeurs for the woman wearing the clothing. In my approach, I want it to be super sincere, with the most beautiful materials I can find. I love all the people I’m working with. The guys who do my jacket, people who do the knitwear. Their core is doing smaller production with this higher degree of manufacturing. I am also very happy because we’re a small team but a top team, I am boosted by that. Q: What the next step for you? A: It’s important to keep these values at work. I am going to do two collections a year which allows me to look closer to the production, but obviously I want to evolve step by step, doing more shows, more things! It’s important to remember we’re a small company, we are able to be really flex and to take cool opportunities and move-on. All our work is to create a strong foundations because it’s a small company but it’s still a maison. Q: Looking forward, where do you see yourself in 5 years? A: I am very “goaly”. I am double Capricorn, I was born on January 4th. We always live with a long-term desire but it doesn’t necessarily means it’s needs to be so precise. I learned that it’s better not to think that far ahead. You better be a little bit in the moment. It’s good to be able to change, to adapt. But I guess, just continuing to build a strong brand and have more people loving it, being attracted to it, that’s is my dream. This article first appeared in the pages of the 12th issue of ODDA Magazine. Check out Olivier Theyskens latest Fall/Winter 2017 collection on GPS RADAR.
Jessica Michault is the Senior Vice President of industry relations at GPS Radar by Launchmetrics. She is also the editor-at-large for ODDA magazine and contributes to publications like the New York Times, the Business of Fashion, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Mixte magazine.
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