The work of Olivier Theyskens reflects remarkable sensitivity to history, but never succumbs to nostalgia. It exudes a melancholy beauty and evokes an atmosphere of dark romanticism. In 2017, MoMu presented Olivier Theyskens - She Walks in Beauty, an exhibition on the work of Olivier Theyskens.
Olivier Theyskens became fascinated with clothing at a young age: boxes filled with his grandmother’s lengths of fabric, lace, buttons and ribbons made an indelible impression on him. In 1994 he enrolled at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels de la Cambre, but after two years decided to continue his studies on his own. His first creations were not for sale, but they nonetheless attracted the attention of stylists, fashion journalists, photographers and none other than Madonna, who wore one of his dresses for the Oscars in 1998. In 2002, when Theyskens discontinued his own label, Rochas asked him to breathe new life into the French fashion house. In 2006, he became creative director for Nina Ricci. In 2011, he went to New York to work for the American brand, Theory. Olivier Theyskens returned to Paris in 2014, where he has again been designing for his own label. In 2020 he moreover became creative director for Azzaro.
DEMI-COUTURE FROM HIS OWN HAND
A PEACOCK PERSPECTIVE
Olivier Theyskens gives special attention to the backs of his creations, with pleats and panels, surprising embroidery work, crochet hook closures and flowing trains. This stems from his fascination with peacock tails and 19th-century fashion prints, with crinolined dresses and bustles seen from a side or three-quarter perspective.
His collections contain numerous couture elements, such as crocheted hook and eye closures, corsets, crinolines, fabrics cut on the bias and lightweight materials, including silk, crêpe and lace. Olivier Theyskens pays exceptional attention to the way fabrics reflect light and move in relation to the body. He works as a true classic couturier and does much of the handwork himself. The international fashion press refer to his labour-intensive and meticulous working methods as demi-couture.
FIN-DE-SIÈCLE IN MOTION
The back of a bolero dress, Olivier Theyskens for Nina Ricci, Spring-Summer 2009
Silk dress with gigot sleeves and train, Olivier Theyskens for Nina Ricci, Spring-Summer 2009
Dress in silk with interwoven leaf motif and train, Olivier Theyskens for Nina Ricci, Spring-Summer 2009
The construction of movement is a constant factor in Olivier Theyskens’ work. In his Spring-Summer 2009 collection for Nina Ricci, this is expressed in a series of dresses that are short in the front and flow into a long train at the back. Thanks to the graceful and studied fall of every pleat and the texture of the selected fabric, a dynamic is created, inspired by the world of dance. He contrasted this with high-necked bodices and gigot sleeves, referring to silhouettes from the 1890s.
VINTAGE LACE: TRANSPARENT AND LAYERED
AN ODE IN LACE
In his silhouettes for Rochas, Theyskens offers an ode to the sophisticated femininity that Marcel Rochas evokes with lace. Black Chantilly lace has been the trademark of the fashion house since the launch of their ‘Femme’ perfume in 1944. In a spectacular evening gown, Theyskens draped this type of lace over pink silk in broad, lobed bands.
Olivier Theyskens’ predilection for lace interweaves itself throughout his collections. In his early silhouettes, he integrated vintage fragments of lace that his grandmother had collected for him. The effect is sensual and attracts attention to the body as it reveals it.
Author: Romy Cockx
Above: Julien Claessens & Thomas Deschamps