Purple Magazine
— F/W 2013 issue 20

Olivier Theyskens

Olivier wears an embroidered silk dress THEYSKENS’ THEORY

on un-designing

interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
portrait by COLIN DODGSON


OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you see fashion evolving these days? Because you come from the ’90s, which was a period of creativity, and you started with no money. I read that you started with your grandmother’s sheets.
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — Yeah. My grandparents had a farm in Normandy. They were farmers and they had a lot of these old linen sheets and towels and stuff. My grandmother collected so many things for me, pieces of Chantilly lace and all kinds of embroidery. She would also collect very old journals for me, from like 1860 to 1930, all these illustrated journaux de mode. I would look at them all the time when I was there. Every time she saw an antique that looked like what was in those magazines, she would collect it for me. So that’s why when I started I was very Victorian. I really owe her a lot because those magazines gave me a strong historical background for the clothes.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Which periods influenced you?
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — I was fantasizing enormously about the ’50s, the New Look and all that elegance. I’m a little less strong with the ’40s, but lately I’ve started being more interested in them since Karl is always saying they are so good. There was that crazy Saint Laurent ’40s collection. It’s only the ’60s that I never really got. When we were in the ’80s, my parents got me clothes from the ’70s. I was suffering a lot as a badly dressed kid.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’ve been traumatized by the ’70s.
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — Yeah, but it looks cool now in the pictures. I still like the allure of that time. Even at Theory now, when I consider a coat, I might give it a narrow ‘70s shoulder or use certain fabrics or colors, like beige and khaki, or military green.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you design for men also?
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — I’m involved in the menswear. My team is amazing.What I do, though, is not too fashion-y. It’s just what I like to see on a guy. Our stuff is more casual, relaxed but elegant. There’s a proper proportion and it’s more modern. I have a little bit of a problem with guys wearing fashion-y clothes. The pictures in magazines are cool, I like it, but the moment I see a guy in real life with fashion clothes, I just gasp. Personally, I feel it’s not sexy. The fact that he even knows about fashion — I want to run away!

OLIVIER ZAHM — Can you explain the difference between these lines? Theyskens’ Theory is an extension of Theory as an identity?
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — I don’t really see it as two brands. The potential is all about the main line. That’s where I see the real growth and development. And it looks like we have the possibility of having more of a signature group of products. The lines perform very well, so it’s really cool.

OLIVIER ZAHM — When did you move to New York?
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — I started really living here in May 2010. But I already was fascinated as a child. I used to come a lot, but this was a big change, because I had to find an apartment and suddenly I had a more normal life in the city.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And now that New York is home, what do you like and what do you dislike about it?
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — Basically, I’m very happy here. There isn’t really anything that I don’t like. I like working here on Broadway. And where I’m living, in the West Village, it’s so preserved. I have such a quiet neighborhood life. There is nothing aggressive except in the Meatpacking district. It’s extreme and you don’t know if the crowds are coming from Manhattan or New Jersey or what. And the girls wear the smallest dresses possible with stilettos and walk along cobblestones. I don’t think you can make a shorter dress for a girl.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How does New York influence you?
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — The big thing in New York for me is that I made friends here. When I was living in Paris, I didn’t have a lot of friends left. Some of my best friends ended up working with me, which meant our relationship was not pure friendship anymore. I got a little bit depressed sometimes, feeling like something had broken or disappeared because I was caught up in the work. I would need to find someone to do something and would know a friend and propose the job to them. It just happened little by little. I had a few strong friendships that got consumed that way. And it’s only when I took that year off, and I had a new boyfriend, that I could start meeting a lot of people who were not in fashion. I started building new friendships, which was something I realized I really needed.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is the fashion world close-knit in New York?
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — In New York you have the CFDA, which is a very well-organized and orchestrated organization. It takes care of designers at large and really supports new ones. That definitely makes a difference. A few times a year there are events to attend with all the designers and there’s a true family feeling.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you nostalgic for Europe?
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — For a few years now, every time I go back, I feel it’s a little stagnant. In Paris, I would do nothing. Like the whole morning, I might even play cards on my own, drink a million coffees on my terrace. I would really have that sort of life there. Sometimes I wouldn’t even go out for a whole day. Whereas here I am always out. I’m never really in my apartment.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re not at all caught up with the ego competition in Paris.
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — Oh my god, I don’t understand that at all. Let’s just say that when you take some time off, you relativize the importance of the world of fashion. Like, I’m absolutely caught up in that world because of my passion for the clothes and the aesthetics and the behavior of girls, but at the same time, a lot of these beautiful things disappear quickly.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Living and working in New York gives you a distance from the fashion world in Europe, but you don’t lose your love for fashion.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But the only thing about New York is that it’s also very commercially oriented.
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — Yeah. It’s really all product.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did the change of environment change your approach to fashion? Because there has been a lot of press about your shift from a very dark and dramatic theatrical aesthetic to a cooler and more accessible fashion.
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — Well, the thing is that in 2009 I took the year off to do a book. That year was very useful. I traveled and at the same time was really thinking that I should challenge myself to do something new. I was slightly frustrated about the way people perceived my work. I embrace a large spectrum of clothes — even the kinds of things that Zara makes can be really impressive. When I was working at Nina Ricci, for example, I would spend maybe 80 percent of my time trying to make clothes that would sell and a minimum of my time doing these dresses. I had to fill the store with clothes. I never was just theatrical. I know that a lot of the things that were more spectacular took the spotlight.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Would you say that your work now is less romantic than what you were doing in Paris?
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — I don’t know. Maybe I can still be considered romantic if that means imagining and wishing to generate and to do. But I’m still willing to pragmatically generate strong clothes. It’s that sort of balance.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You said somewhere that you like to make space for a certain fragility.
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — Yeah. I’ve always loved girls who showed a failure or something broken, who are not just happy and sweet.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Now your woman, the Theyskens’ Theory woman, is very sharp and cool but also professional.
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — Fortunately, she’s cool. I think I want her to be naturally … unfortunately the right word is “cool,” but it’s a word that is so boring that in the end I hate to say it out loud. She’s clever at spotting the right shape and it looks good and she puts it together the right way. She doesn’t want to look cute. She doesn’t just want to look interesting.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You keep a sense of purity in your work, which has a certain Belgian aspect, I think, if you look at Ann Demeulemeester or Martin Margiela as examples of designers who protect the purity of their work before it goes to market.
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — Yeah, it’s true. I don’t want to make dumb clothing. I need to feel that the clothing has a reason and it’s thought out. We have an amazing brand with amazing designers, and they do a lot of things, but I go to the store sometimes — and I admire a big part of the collection — but I always feel like some of the clothes have nothing in them. I just feel like this is really just to fill racks. Our obsession at Theory now is to edit the collections properly. We have so many products. Everything has to be really thought out. Ever since I started, my obsession has been to manufacture and sell clothes the proper way. I’m bathing in this approach. Theory is a company that has very little marketing and communication. The product speaks for itself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And this is the American way?
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — No, this is my boss’s way. When Andrew Rosen founded the brand, he was just feeling like he wanted to provide some elevated classics that people can wear and mix with whatever they have. They could even mix the pieces with upscale, highly designed things. He started with a shirt, a pair of pants, and a dress. The pants were a big hit: the perfect black stretch pant. In shape, it was comparable to Jil Sander or even Helmut Lang. It was just the perfect, almost corporate, sleek, classic pair of pants. It quickly became a big success. Theory is a great name because we are always saying, “in theory” everything is possible. It fits for menswear and for womenswear, too.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Aren’t you afraid to lose a little bit of your romantic soul in the New York fashion industry?
OLIVIER THEYSKENS — You learn to see some aspects of the fashion industry differently. Sometimes you’ll make clothes that you’re very excited about and they don’t sell. And then you’ll do others that you are not as happy with and that get sold out very quickly. It’s so unpredictable. I’m in a company that makes 100 percent of its business through clothes. There is no perfume or accessories. That’s the creative challenge!


[Table of contents]

F/W 2013 issue 20

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS






purple BEAUTY

purple TRAVEL

purple SEX

purple PHILO

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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