BoF Exclusive | Olivier Theyskens speaks out about his Love of Cats, the Creative Process, and the Role of Drama in his Life

Oliver Theyskens | Photo: Monika Bielskyte for SOME/THINGS

PARIS, FRANCE Olivier Theyskens caused a veritable fashionista frenzy in New York earlier this month when he launched a capsule collection for American contemporary brand Theory, which is known for its accessible prices and well-fitting trousers, but not necessarily for its fashion aesthetic or production quality. It was a surprise move for Mr. Theyskens, a designer who has been criticised in the past as being out of touch with the commercial side of the business during his time at Rochas and Nina Ricci.

The new capsule collection — dubbed Theyskens’ Theory — put that criticism to rest, for once and for all. Suzy Menkes, the fashion critic for the International Herald Tribune, wrote that “if Theory succeeds in raising the quality, while keeping an acceptable price for the workmanship, Mr. Theyskens may be able to express himself even better than when he was at couture’s giddy heights.” Menkes’ colleague and counterpart at the New York Times, Cathy Horyn, said the clothes were “remarkable because they reflect Mr. Theyskens’s signature drainpipe style, but also look like Theory’s urban wardrobe.” And Style.com’s Nicole Phelps concluded that Theory CEO Andrew Rosen “made Olivier Theyskens fans into some very happy girls,” with high-quality fabrics from Italy and Japan, manufactured into desirable garments in America and China, keeping most of the garments well below $1,000.

But don’t let this newfound pragmatism fool you into thinking that Theyskens is out of touch with his more creative, esoteric side. I had the privilege of sitting alongside Mr Theyskens on the graduate jury at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts last year, and witnessed first hand his passion for the raw creativity on display at one of the finest fashion schools in the world. And today, The Business of Fashion can exclusively bring to you an excerpt of an extensive, candid interview with Theyskens by Stephen Todd, kindly provided to us by SOME/THINGS magazine, which was featured in BoF last year.

Photographed by the magazine’s founder Monika Bielskyte in an intimate one-on-one photo shoot, Theyskens reveals himself to be an alluring subject for the camera, distinctly different from the somewhat ethereal images we have seen of him in the past, and shares his love of cats, the creative process, and the role of drama in his life.

Stephen Todd: In a previous conversation, when I mentioned to you that you’d fallen asleep curled up in a ball on a tiny couch at Jacky’s (co-founder of Shirtology & one of Olivier’s best friends) place, you said you were like a kitten!

Olivier Theyskens: I’m very cat! I love all animals, but cats are particularly beautiful. A cat is everything more than we are: more supple, more streamlined, more independent, faster, more agile. Everything! I have a chat sauvage, a once feral cat, that I had to leave in Belgium because she is in her habitat there. She’s incredible: blacker than black, with enormous whiskers, truly extraordinary. She’s a fantastic hunter, a real feline creature.

ST: I find it interesting that you give yourself so easily to being photographed. I always think of you as someone who keeps a distance, solitary. You’ve never struck me as the kind of guy who allows easy access to himself.

OT: Solitary? I can be, and I certainly have been during different periods of my life. But I can also be extremely social, although I’m very conscious not to allow myself to grow tired of that. Tired of people. I can see people non-stop and then, all of a sudden, have an almost visceral need to be alone. Often that corresponds with a great flood of creativity, when I feel this incredible need to isolate myself and think, and dream and draw. But then, after a few days of that, I feel the need again to be social, to see friends, or colleagues to chat, to reflect on what I’ve done, to input their points of view.

I really admire people who have that incredible discipline to draw all alone every morning. But that’s not me. I’m too sporadic in my desires. That said, when I began in fashion, I believed as a designer you had to draw all alone, to be isolated in your creative space, à la Yves Saint Laurent. But it’s not true. Not even for Saint Laurent, he had Loulou and all these other little satellites revolving around him, showing him fabric, accessories, saying ‘What do you think of this, of that?’ and that, would it look good… So, in fact, despite the myth, he never really worked completely alone. Sure, sometimes he found himself alone in the room, him and his solitude. He had a kind of mini Court of Versailles nonetheless. And the thing with having a little court is that from time to time you feel the impulse to escape, the need to be alone in order to breathe.

ST: Your aesthetic has a distinctly dramatic side. What role does drama have in your life?

OT: I’ve always liked drama, that’s for sure. But on the podium, not in my QUOTIDIaN! I always like it when behind first appearances there is an undertow of drama, a potential for an explosion of emotion or an extravagant gesture that will make everybody stop and pay attention. If you need to have strength in life, it’s because something out there could harm you. Or at least make you feel fragile, vulnerable, so you have to be constantly on the look-out.

It’s that tensile feeling that I find both compelling & repelling. There is nothing that inspires me less than someone who is completely happy in the face of life, who goes about life completely content with all that is thrown in their path. The person who just floats along, with no idea where they’re going, no engagement with the world. Let’s just say, she would not be my muse! I appreciate people who are conscious, awake, who are alive to what’s going on around them. Who, when they see something cruel, cry. I find that really important. For me, beauty could never function in conjunction with a stance that is beyond reality.

The complete interview with Olivier Theyskens appears in ISSUE003 of SOME/THINGS, available in select fashion stores and art galleries in 20 countries around the world. The magazine will be hosting a launch party to close out Paris Fashion Week on 6 October 2010. For further information, please contact events@someslashthings.com.