Olivier Theyskens: A Poetic Homecoming

April 10, 2017

Shuttering the doors of his eponymous label nearly 20 years ago, Olivier Theyskens has once again reopened his label to deliver a dose of romance and elegance.

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When Olivier Theyskens registered on the fashion radar in 1998, courtesy of Madonna who wore his black satin coatdress to the Oscars, fashion press were quick to pigeonhole him as a gothic designer. No one could blame them, of course, given his dark mane and dreamy appearance. Though he delivered poetic extravaganzas under his namesake level, the Belgian fashion designer also showed versatility when he later worked as creative director for Rochas, Nina Ricci and Theory.

But having turned 40 earlier this year, Theyskens is returning back to his roots literally and figuratively. Reopening his eponymous label late last year, the designer along with long-term friend and photographer Julien Claessens, recently displayed a photography exhibition in JOYCE Gallery. The project was entitled ‘Balade Éphémère’. Shot in the Belgian countryside close to the designer’s hometown, the black and white pictures reflected a poetic melancholy synonymous with the Theyskens spirit.

Also present in the exhibition, and juxtaposed next to the images was Theysken’s Steffy shoe. The ankle boots were placed on a series of plinths. Shown in various leathers including black calf, white calf and black patent leather, the shoes are also available for sale at On Pedder. Also available for pre-order include exotic skins such as black ostrich and silver python. The boots feature hook-and-eye corset detailing, and are perhaps a nod to the Madonna dress that put the designer on the map. But it’s also a strong statement of confidence for a designer who is once again creating for himself.

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What made the exhibiting images so memorable was Claessens connection with Theyskens. The photographer is familiar with the inner workings of the designer and his romantic sensibility given their longstanding relationship. Both studied at La Cambre, and knew each other as friends before working together. Their creative partnership is so intimate, that a book has been published by Assouline documenting their relationship as photographer and designer over a span of a decade.

Seeing Theyskens’ comeback, it’s not hard to notice how the designer has evolved and matured over the years. This journey includes his time at Rochas, where he worked from 2002 to 2006 and delivered stunning evening dresses and a new silhouette for the fashion label. His poetic sensibility shone through, with collections that celebrated Edwardian details, tufted ruffles and couture references. The result was both sophisticated and desirable.

One of Theysken’s stand-outs was a dress commissioned by Sofia Coppola to help promote her film, Marie Antoinette. (It was also worn by actress Kirsten Dunst for Vogue US, as the actress played the movie’s title role.) The garment, which does not appear on any of Rochas’ official collections, conveys both excess and decay of the female historical figure with its ghostly grey palette, and dishevelled but beautiful appearance.

Another of the designer’s signature is his bias cut – a technique he has made into something of a signature and perfected when designing for Nina Ricci. The method was used successfully in many of Theyskens’ show-stopping gowns to show-stopping effect. It has also notably found a home in the Belgian’s fashion label, such as in the form of an asymmetric red maxi dress which drapes diagonally across a woman’s torso. The result is both a distillation and explanation of why Theyskens’ continues to impress season after season. As they say, the best is yet to come.

By: Daniel Kong

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