BoF Exclusive | Olivier Theyskens Speaks to Dorian Grinspan, Founder of Out of Order Magazine

Today, BoF brings you an exclusive interview with Olivier Theyskens, courtesy of Out of Order magazine, in which the designer discusses his work for Rochas, Nina Ricci and Theory, what the future holds, and why he used to want to be a girl.

Olivier Theyskens | Source: Out of Order

NEW HAVEN, United States — Whilst matriculating as a third year history major at Yale and finding himself with “not a lot to do,” 20-year-old Dorian Grinspan, a Paris native and part-time model, founded Out of Order, a highly atypical student fashion magazine now stocked at influential retailers, including Colette and Opening Ceremony. The magazine’s 244-page, adolescence-themed sophomore issue features a cover by Larry Clark, images of Arizona Muse with her son Nikko, and in-depth interviews with Olivier Theyskens, Angel Haze and Ryan McGinley, as well as advertising from brands including Stella McCartney, Bulgari and Jason Wu.

In a global exclusive, BoF brings you Grinspan’s interview with Theory designer Olivier Theyskens, who along with founding his own label, has held creative director positions at Rochas and Nina Ricci, prior to his current appointment. The designer discusses the differences between his work for Rochas, Nina Ricci and Theory, what the future holds and why he used to want to be a girl.

OOO: I looked up your Wikipedia page, and the first thing it says was that when you were younger, you wanted to be a girl.

OT: I remembered that I loved playing with clothes and playing with fabrics. I loved beautiful things, beautiful clothes. I loved to dress in costumes. I remember, at the time, saying I wanted to be a girl because I loved princesses. I loved to look at the female characters of any movies. I was very attracted by that. I always felt women could incarnate a really fascinating mystery for me. From Hollywood to the 1980s military hero girls, I always saw girls as these amazing figures. I always admired these figures.

Did women play a large role in your life growing up?

Yes, my mother had a few sisters, and I loved my aunts. I have two older brothers, and my sister was not very girly. She was a bit of a tomboy. I really admired older women, too. I actually didn’t admire my girlfriends at school the way I admired grown-up women, either real-life ones or characters in a movie. My imagination was always more stimulated by people who were more grown-up.

What would they inspire you to do?

It’s more that I loved the world I was imagining these women in. I also did this with men. I loved to admire adulthood, the way they were dressing, and the way they acted together. It was not at all the way I behaved with my friends, so it was a big mystery to me.

Was it more about the relationships or about the appearance of adulthood?

As a child, I liked how you could see more intimate moments in movies with adult characters. I was really fascinated by scenes that would reveal personal qualities within the characters. I don’t remember what movie this was from, but there was a man in a train. He was on his own in the cabin, and he was semi-undressed, and he was in his own little masculine world. That fascinated me: the small, hidden elements in a secret adult world.

Would you try to recreate them with you in it?

No, but it’s probably how I became interested in clothes.

Did that change when you were growing up, or did it evolve in any way?

I still see a lot of this in other people. I like to imagine that they have these more intimate parts, their own clothes, and their own world. It’s fascinating to me. A lot of times, I wish I could ask people: “What other stuff do you like to wear? What is your intimate world?”

How did that inform your early work?

I like to think that what I do will enter that person’s world. I know that my job is to influence people with a world I create. The ideas are there but they’re split up; they’ve exploded into a million pieces, and it’s up to me to put it together, creatively, in a way that fits.

Your work at Theory is very different from the kind of designs you would make for your label, Rochas, or Nina Ricci. What has changed since then?

I approach my designs with just as much intensity. A lot of people see differences between what I used to do then and now, but on a day-to-day basis, my approach is still the same. I put the same amount of thinking into it, and I have the same concern in getting the result I’m looking for. The only difference is that my creativity flows differently. For example, a lot of the time people ask me to do dresses, but in the present context, I refuse to make too many because it just doesn’t fit with what I want to do right now, or with how I see the brand evolving.

Why not?

Because it wouldn’t sit the right way. I think my creativity is very connected with my subconscious and intuition and my own inner character. So maybe my subconscious doesn’t let certain things flow, because they wouldn’t sit properly. It doesn’t feel right. I’m always looking to feel that what I do is right, for the right place, and at the right time.

Do you ever look back?

Yes, I have to sometimes, like in an interview or a discussion with someone. A few times I’ve had to browse back into the past, and it’s so weird for me. It’s so far. Everything feels so far away.

Do you go back to before you even started designing?

I have so many drawings at my parents’ place from when I was a teenager or a child, or even early drawings from my career. I have to go through it at some point, but to me, there is nothing more boring. It might be interesting to see some of the drawings, but it’s such a boring task to go through these millions of pages of stuff that I don’t even remember making.

Do you ever look at them?

No. One of the few times I had to look back was when I had to prepare a mini-film on my work. I went through my drawings. I wanted to archive my work from Ricci and Rochas, so I had to put all the drawings into boxes, and that was such a pain in the ass. It was so much stuff, and I don’t really like much of it. I like to introduce elements of the past in my work—like elements of culture and knowledge—but I don’t like looking back to my early works.

Moving from your childhood to your adulthood, are you as fascinated by people around you now, or do you still look to generations ahead?

I think I’m more fascinated by being alone. It’s probably because I like to imagine things. Actually, even if I interact easily with people, I have to admit that I’m still very intimidated by others. Deep in me, I feel very, very shy in general about people that I’m with. I think that there is this human part, this personal part that I cannot seize, but I know it’s there. In our interactions with people, we tend to keep a distance. Emotions are one of the biggest focal points of my work. I am always obsessed with the feeling of emotion. I’ll design a girl in a black suit, but in my mind, the way I imagine she is—beyond the suit, there is a person with weird emotions. A lot of times, when I interact with adults, I like to imagine that there might be crushed emotions or deeper things going on.

If you were to look at yourself from the outside and perceive that intimate part of yourself, what would it be?

I don’t know. A lot of times, I’m told that people working around me, for example, are sometimes scared of me. That’s so weird to me. I think we’re in a world where there are a lot of preconceptions—people will think that you are a certain kind of person, or that you do things a certain way. Everybody has a preconceived point of view; they think of others as something that they’re not. But the way I see myself? I believe I am as mysterious as the way I see other people, in the end.

But if you were to give us some insight as to who you are, what would it be?

I am very brainy and obsessed about what I am doing. I’m always trying to do the best I can, but I often feel that it’s not as perfect as I want. I always have a little thing in me—it’s not a frustration, it’s more like a shaking feeling. I’m stressed about the fact that I cannot do something as well as I really want to. I have this feeling constantly. In the past few years, I’ve been taking better care of my health. I’m more conscious of my body, of that machine, than when I was younger.

If you had any lessons from when you were younger, what would they be?

Millions of little lessons. The things I’ve learned the most are always about the human element. A lot of what you do can excite people, but not everything you do can have a real impact. There is a marginalization between what you create and what actually works: people like to see things that excite them, but what they experience in life is often different from that. For example, even with myself, I like to see upscale designs, but I have a hard time wearing something too upscale.

As a designer, how do you reconcile both?

What I like, and what will always make me happy, is that I associate extremes in my work. For my first collection, I was obsessed with having the perfect black pants and very clean, invisible zips on the side. At the same time, I also wanted to do an incredible piece that was very visual and amazing, and nobody would probably ever wear it, save for an exceptional occasion—but I wanted to do it just because it was beautiful.

Do you get more excited about pieces that are not necessarily wearable or pieces that people wear and that you’ll see on the street tomorrow?

I think that even my most extreme designs are very wearable in a way, because they enhance the beauty of the body. I have a very weird relationship with more experimental designs. I experiment to bring creativity, but experimental designs are sometimes too bizarre, to the point where I cannot feel the body anymore. Holes on the shoulders are such a weird design. I’m more conservative than one might think. The stage dresses that I did were still tighter on the waist, revealed the body—they were like an absolute fashion figure. But I rarely did an asymmetric pleated or semi-pleated skirt. I have respect for people who design these kinds of things, but I am at a loss when I have them in my hands. It’s very conceptual.

How do you reconcile your previous experiences as a designer at Rochas or Ricci, where you had more freedom, with a brand like Theory, where you have to adhere to a certain budget or a certain image? Does it restrict your creativity in any way?

I feel like I work in the same conditions that I always have been in. I’m with people who believe in what I can bring to the evolution of their brand. I don’t feel like I ever accepted a restrictive job. I accepted to participate in the evolution and the building of the future of a brand, and for that, I have a responsibility to make that happen. It doesn’t even get reflected in the budget. I’m taking the responsibility together with them. Obviously, if I started to experiment or go crazy, of course we would have a conversation—but then I would say I agree, and it’s become too much. But even so, I’ve never experienced that, ever. Companies or groups of people—the most important thing is that you work together. And on a day-to-day basis, you see where you are and what you still have to do. It’s less about things that are restricting, and more about the fact that we have so much more to do.

How do you choose what to do?

It’s difficult to make that decision. We’ll have an intention of doing a certain jacket, and then that intention will evolve; then we suddenly feel it’s not the right fabric anymore, so we have to put it in a different fabric. This is the way we work. We really want to get at the best results, and it’s very organic. Right now, I could have eighty styles that are not very nice, or twenty styles that are perfect. And I don’t know yet where exactly we are going to be. It’s very organic.

How do you see yourself evolving from here?

The thing is, I feel like I have so many years to give. I have so much creativity to give, so I don’t know. It’s funny—if you read the Encyclopedia of Fashion and you see the designers listed, life is long. What I’ve also felt is that events make you change. You have to go to something else, and it’s sometimes unpredictable. This is what I felt when I left my own brand to do Rochas in Paris. It was after the economic crisis following September 11, and I had to make a decision at that time. It was a choice between a tough future for an independent, little brand, or bringing something to Paris that I was attracted to. I always felt that I made the right choice, to go with that experience.When I think of the future from this point on, I see a future connected to Theory, with the way the brand is going to develop, but I also know that you never know. I always feel that it’s important to be able to change, to evolve, to transform.

Is it hard to reinvent yourself multiple times a year?

No, I feel that we build on a lot of things that we are happy with. We are always trying to capitalize on energy and excitement. But we are always trying to bring something new, because otherwise there would be a frustration—a feeling that we are not changing enough. We need to feel we are changing, but we also need to capitalize on what we like. In my work, I always feel that there is a connection to the last work I did, but there is a step towards a new evolution. I never feel happy if I don’t feel that.

What’s your next step?

I want to be more focused. For example, the last collection felt a little bit like it was exploding, and I want to be more focused. I’m so happy with what we’re doing with Theory, and I want people to be more aware of how the brand is now evolving. It’s amazing. There was a need for change, a need for evolution. It took a while to do it, but now I’m very excited by it.

OOO_CoverEdited by Dorian Grinspan, the second issue of Out of Order magazine hits newsstands this week. In addition to this interview with Olivier Theyskens, it includes interviews with Angel Haze and Ryan McGinley, images of Arizona Muse with her son Nikko, and photography by Larry Clark.