Clear-Headed Master

Clear-Headed Master

Since our last meeting with Designer Olivier Theyskens (two years ago) to today, his address has changed but he has not. From Le Marais to the 10th district of Paris, his creations have given new meanings to fashion. The latest location, Bourienne Hotel, is not only ranked amongst historical monuments, but is also considered as one of the architectural jewels of the eighteenth century. It was an opportunity for us to discuss the vision and upcoming projects of the Franco-Belgian creator. Edited extracts...

Your new place of work is inspirational in itself. How did you find it?

We had been looking for a change, for a long time. But, the Bourrienne hotel was under restoration for more than five years, with the floor being finished very recently. So, we made an urgent move as soon as it became available. 

You were a one-man army when you started. Now you are a team. How was the journey for you?

Sometimes starting alone is an asset, I believe. I started building my collection back in 1997. At that time I was very naive, and the fashion industry has changed a lot since then. Today I have a team of a handful. We are less than ten people, but we are very structured. Everything is produced in Italy. I have some key people that I certainly rely on.

You have both Belgian and French roots. Which traits do you have of each nationality? 

My mother is French, from Normandy. I was highly influenced by her side of the family. My grandfather was Polish, with a rustic and very eclectic side. My grandparents used to collect thousands of things (fossils, records etc.), because I was highly inclined towards new and strange things. My grandmother knew that I loved furbelows, so she used to save lace slips or fur slips, and pages of fashion magazines for me. It was my rich, rich universe. Whereas on the Belgian side of my father, it was more conventional and bourgeois.

Today, it’s fashionable to have a band if you’re a fashion designer. Do you have one?

Not really. I have people with whom I spend time. Life changes and you have to evolve with it. But I keep them close still. I have known Michel Gaubert since my beginnings, and I still ask him for music when I run out. There is also Julien Claessens, a friend who used to took pictures of me when I was a student. I even remember a time when he made me pose in his girlfriend’s lingerie. It’s been twenty-five years, but we’re still close.

Speaking of music, what place does it have in your life?

When I was a child, I used to dream of being a violinist. I loved the instrument as I was a very melancholic boy. But then the world of fashion happened to me, and I never looked back.

Do you consider Black as your colour?

When I started, I was called Gothic although I was not. Black was not my obsession. At Rochas, I turned to the graphic chic of black. At Nina Ricci (2006-2009), I broke away from it. Then at Theory (2010-2015) I came back with white and nude, the trio of home colours. I am very inspired by fabrics, which are often manufactured in black. So I use them as it is. I believe the colour brings out the material.

In your fall-winter collection, you have proposed a pink dress. Tell us about it. 

I am wary of the theatrical touch of colours. At the same time, I feel and understand femininity. I can imagine what it must be like to be a woman. I perceive how one can feel in a garment. Thus, the choice. The colour is perfect for red carpets and magazines. But black for me is always more chic, and often very beautiful. 

About four years ago, you predicted a crazy future for sportswear. You were on point in saying so. How do you envision its future today? 

I did a lot of sportswear, especially at Theory. I felt its wind coming. For me, the best sportswear remains at Carhartt, Nike etc. These brands have engineering teams. In today’s scenario though, I honestly do not know. The wind is changing yet again, so there will definitely be a breach, and something else will be born, but what?

You have worked with various labels, like Rochas, Nina Ricci, Theory. What was your inspiration when working for others? 

While working for Rochas, Nina Ricci, Theory, I blossomed a lot. Each piece I made for these brands was a personal work, but totally dedicated to the code of these houses.

After all this, where do you find yourself today?

I’m going through a phase where technique fascinates me; construction, work, cuts, details. When I first made a pantalon or a jacket, I was learning. Today, I like playing with all these things; the garment inspires me in terms of silhouette.


Chitman Kanwar Ahuja

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja is a feature writer at L'Officiel India. She is a silver jewellery hoarder and an aesthete of all arts. You can find her unraveling new stories day in and day out.