Rochas, Nina Ricci...Theory. What prompted Olivier Theyskens, the golden boy of Paris fashion, to make Theory—the sensible go-to boutique brand for working women—his next bold move? This is a designer—a sensitive, romantic Belgian designer—for whom, it seemed, the world of haute fashion would always be home. Remember that it was Theyskens who, at the age of 21, hit the headlines for dressing Madonna in his then-trademark gothic glam—a black satin coat dress—for the 1998 Academy Awards. He went on to cut quite a remarkable swath through the rarefied world of top Parisian houses: first at Rochas, where he firmly established a poetic signature of dark, edgy Victoriana, and then at Nina Ricci, where he further developed his urban elegance.
So, Theory? “I want to create clothes that will appeal to as many people as possible,” says Theyskens. Excuse me, but aren’t you the guy who cut your first collection, at 19, out of bedsheets found in your grandmother’s attic? And didn’t you once create a dress for Rochas that required 457 metres of rooster feathers to be attached to one long thread, at a cost of $94,000? And wasn’t it you who decided to throw out your TV, divorce yourself from anything modern and listen to no more music? Hardly the back catalogue of a designer with fashion democracy on his mind. “I’m considering a little bit of everybody,” he enthuses. “We’re on a very global scale. It’s super-stimulating and über-exciting.”
Stop right there, Olivier. “Über-exciting,” to use your phrase, is the way you’ve turned your trademark romance into realism. “Über” is the super-wide trousers, the long, fluid skirts, the louche one-button blazers— all in typical smoke-to-charcoal Theyskens hues. “Exciting” is the way you’ve mixed those pretty whisker-fine camisoles and spaghetti-strap dresses with cool jeans and supple leather jackets. It’s a great collection—one that managed to bring a smile to the frosty tribes of fashion editors when they saw it in the Paris showroom and got them feverishly chatting about how they couldn’t wait to wear it.
“I’m very intuitive, very instinctive,” he says. “I was looking at people my age and thinking ‘I should be able to do things on a more affordable scale.’” So he looked at his friends and their lifestyles, what they wore, where they went and how they put themselves together and cue the result: a commercial dilution of all that we love about Theyskens and the best of the new season’s trends that’s anonymous enough to put your own stamp on.
“There were signs; I’m attentive to signs,” he says mystically on how this surprising collaboration came about. “The way the letters were very close to my name and the fact that Theory was founded in 1997, the year I founded my own brand.” It was last May that he was invited to create Theyskens for Theory. Six months later, Andrew Rosen, founder and co- CEO of Theory, asked him to become artistic director of the whole brand: menswear and womenswear. “When I first met Olivier, I was completely inspired by his vision,” says Rosen. “There was a natural synchronicity between his desire to create more accessible clothing and my belief that there is a huge opportunity for the designer perspective in a contemporary place.” Enthralled by the enormity of it and eager to use his instincts at the hub of fast retailing, Theyskens said yes.
It’s great to see a designer of his calibre fully commit to such an accessible brand. And, while collaborations are nothing new, this one is different: Theory is his full-time job. A signal, perhaps, of where the industry is heading? We hope so. More haute style on the high street can never be a bad thing. As Theyskens puts it, “All these things I would love to wear if I were a cool girl.”