I've just got back from Liberty where Olivier Theyskens and Julien Claessens did a book signing for their tome "The Other Side of the Picture" comprising of Claessens' backstage photography at almost all of Theyskens' shows (from his own label to Rochas to Nina Ricci). I had an interview slot with Theyskens where originally I had prepped my questions to delve into his book, a lot of which I already found out from this earlier Dazed Digital feature when the book first came out a couple of months ago as well as maybe probing a little into his future (to which I was expecting a mysterious inconclusive answer).
Then last night, Twitter was all a-flutter over news that Olivier Theyskens will be designing a capsule collection for the Japanese-owned officewear brand Theory. So of course, that had to be factored in and whilst no details of the collection that is set to drop in S/S 11 were revealed (duh…), he was candid about why he decided to collaborate with Theory…
I'm probably reading too much into the conversation but I'm also thinking that there is a new chapter ready to be carved out in Theyskens' career that doesn't just involve Theory – this is after all just one of the many cliffhangers this designer has created in his career trajectory…
Oh, and of course, it goes without saying that the book is a beaut. I had already seen it months ago but it was good to be refreshed…
How does it feel to have a retrospective like this – it seems like a odd point in your career to be doing a book like this?
Olivier Theyskens: Absolutely. It is interesting and many people have asked me about this. The strange thing is that I don't like to be stuck with the past and I don't look back or keep things. For me looking back to these images is about looking at Julien's work because his pictures are things I never saw. I was very busy at the time and I had glimpses of these crazy moments and he had a slower way of looking at things. For me it wasn't strange but it was about discovering details and things that I was not aware of.
What specifically did you discover through these images?
Olivier Theyskens: I discovered situations where girls and their faces are timeless – a beauty or grace of a moment. When I look at the pictures, where I forget who I am and how they are connected to me, I love the pictures for themselves. Working on the book was not about curating my work, but it was to embrace beauty or to be fascinated by something strange.
The girls' intensity really come across in the images – how did you engage with the models as photographic subjects?
Julien Claessens: Like muses of course! They're muses for Olivier but for me too, because there was the light as well as Olivier Theysken's universe.
Olivier Theyskens: You can see that through the lens, that you are naturally attracted without thinking too much.
Julien Claessens: The thing is I'm shooting between the girls posing, before or after.
Olivier Theyskens: A lot of the time when the girls saw you were there, you go away! She starts striking a pose and Julien goes away and she thinks "What? Why is he taking a picture of me smoking?"
Julien Claessens: Sometimes they hated me!
How do you see your own progression as a designer from your own label to Rochas to Nina Ricci and now?
Olivier Theyskens: I love to embrace experiences. When I started my new label I didn't know whether I'd be doing this for the rest of my life or not. At the same time I remember the point where I thought I would love to do something for a brand and that inspired me. I'm always embracing things that stimulate me and I've always been guided by intuition. It's funny little by little, I felt less like I was doing fashion and it felt more like I was doing movies or something!
Yes and people have been following your moves to see what 'movie' you'll be doing next – will there be a sequel etc.
Olivier Theyskens: Then again you think about designers like Karl Lagerfeld who go from Jean Patou, Chloe, Chanel and his own brand… Actually, maybe it's normal – perhaps I have a classical path!
Speaking of paths, the news of course broke out all over the internet last night about you designing a collection for Theory. Obvious question – why Theory?
Olivier Theyskens: For a long time, I've been looking for a way of working with affordable fashion. I think Theory is the right brand to do this. It was a big intuition for me to do this Theyskens/Theory project – I'm super excited by it! I think today, you can find great things at a great price. As a designer, I'm not a guy that can be put in a niche. I'm a guy who can also put his mind to something more global and accessible. Also, I've always been hoping that my friends can buy what I design.
Can you give us any hints about the collection? Any glimpses to the collection?
Olivier Theyskens: I think today's news is already a big glimpse!
When you look back in the book do you have moments of regret/longings or perhaps you might want to go back to doing your own label?
Olivier Theyskens: Even when I was embracing a new project, I've always had the freedom to keep my own brand. However, when I take on a new project, I like to commit to things fully.
For me, people ask me things about my past – my past is a very little part of my brain because I'm always thinking ahead. I sometimes don't know how to answer questions like these. I always like to see new opportunities and see new things.
(All photography by Julien Claessens)