News & Runway

Olivier Theyskens Says He’s Ready to “Kill the Designer”

Mainstream media seems to think the most amazing success stories happen over night. Celebutants and reality show stars make fashion design careers and collections in the blink of an eye. But they're not fooling anyone. Especially when they're put up against a creative vision like that of Olivier Theyskens

As graceful and articulate in personality as he is in design, Theyskens announced his intention to do haute couture at age seven.

"I think very early I was considering being a designer," he said his in soft accent. "Always … since ever."

Early struggles to find financial backing for a popular namesake label after dropping out of the prestigious Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Visuels de la Cambre in Brussels can paint the picture of a young man trying to take the easy route. (After all, how many designers want to do their own collections before moving through the ranks?) But Theyskens' work ethic was always obvious.

"When I quit school, I started sewing at home, every day," he said. "Very quickly I created a collection. My grandmother had given me laces and black pearls. One day I decided to shoot it, and started having pictures in the media and celebrities wearing the clothes."

Most notably, Madonna put Theyskens on the map in 1998. For the next decade, Theyskens helped rebuild the fashion houses of Rochas and Nina Ricci while building his own cult following. In 2011, Theyskens was approached about a capsule collection for Theory.

Given his history of creating high fashion pieces for upwards of $20,000 in his Rochas days, his decision to collaborate with a mass market contemporary line was surprising. But Theyskens sees it as more of a natural progression.

"I remember when I was a student I was able to buy designers," he says of the fashion climate and relative price points at the time. "Nowadays, ready-to-wear designer brands are so expensive. [I wanted to make] real things people can wear." 

He admired the Theory brand perspective of quality and value, exceptional fit, and a global point of view. He eventually said to CEO Andrew Rosen, "I really feel inspired by this environment, maybe we should brand it together." And Theyskens' Theory was born. 

Though for much of his career Theyskens' signature aesthetic was immediately recognizable wherever he worked, he's taken a different approach. "Kill the designer," he said. "I don't want anybody to say 'oh that's Olivier' but the opposite for Theyskens' Theory. Moving from luxury to a more accessible world… traveling in Italy looking for manufacturers, factories. [I am] doing my collection in factories that would do secondary lines [for high fashion designers] to make a better looking garment and make it impeccable. I can bring my coutourier side when I fit anything, finding better ways to make fabrics."

It is this attention to detail which Theyskens credits for his success. "I’ve always been the guy obsessed by how it is inside, sometimes when something is not really well done inside you can even feel it from outside," he said. "For three years [in the beginning] I had no life, no love, no anything, I [pulled two all nighters] a week. I would not be able to do this today. I made a lot of mistakes, like driving too fast and doing the wrong highway sometimes … You’ve got to bring something personal, sometimes it is very scary because you bring something that is bizarre. But it cannot be the shadow of some existing designer: that doesn’t serve anybody, it doesn’t serve the future. New generations are going to bring new rules and these new rules we are not ready yet. If you’re not totally precise don’t even try to show it."

Image via Getty