The Belgian wunderkind designer has been quietly working on the project in the two years since he left his post as artistic director of the American contemporary label Theory. Theyskens, who was based in New York while working at Theory, is developing the collection with a small team in a Paris studio, and doing much of his production in Italy. “It’s a magical, extremely artistic approach,” the designer told BoF in an exclusive interview.
Theyskens has enlisted Maximiliano Nicolelli, whose curriculum vitae includes time spent at LVMH, Esteban Cortázar and mostly recently, La Perla, as his chief executive. While the duo would not yet divulge specific price points, the collection will sit at the upper end of the ready-to-wear spectrum. “I personally never understood the phrase demi-couture,” Theyskens said. “My fuel is what I imagine a woman, a girl, would want to wear, want to find. I always embrace couture, as well as the reality of beautiful clothes. I like the mix.”
I’ve evolved and changed, but my core, my identity, somehow has not changed. I’m still the same material.
The collection will begin with spring and fall only, shown on the traditional calendar. While Nicolelli spent two years as managing director of Esteban Cortázar, a label known for pioneering the “in-season” collection frenzy, he and Theyskens have chosen to play outside of that realm. “Really, the product is at the centre of the scene,” Nicolelli said. “Yes, there are certain things that need to be adjusted. But each brand needs to find its own voice: the best way to portray the product and the best way to be out in the market. I’m very cautious of brands following each other. Personally, I think that’s a mistake, putting certain brands out of their core businesses.”
The retail strategy, explained Nicolelli, is to start slowly and exclusively, with limited partners and points of sale. “I would define it as targeted, keeping in mind the idea of developing a business at the right pace and also growing at a sustainable pace,” the executive told BoF. “We will create and develop strong relationships with multi-brand stores, but we don’t have the ambition of making an explosion in the market right now.” There are no short-term plans for e-commerce or directly operated stores, although “those are things we always dream and think about,” he said. “But there’s no rush.”
Notably, Theyskens has chosen to self-fund the company, which will perhaps require him to be more judicious about allocating funds and managing growth. "It’s obviously interesting to partner with like-minded people that appreciate and value the artistry, but it’s not how we’re developing right now,” Nicolelli said of the potential of bringing on an outside investor. "Time will tell.”
In many ways, Theyskens is going back to his roots after more than a decade of designing clothes for other labels, where his innate talent often outshone the brands for which he was working. “I’ve evolved and changed, but my core, my identity, somehow has not changed. I’m still the same material,” he said. “It’s good for me to think back to what I personally want to do. When I was working for other brands, I was pushing a lot of stuff to the side that I would have done for [my own line].”
Theyskens, who started his namesake label in Brussels in the autumn of 1997 immediately after graduating from La Cambre, came into the public eye just months later, when Madonna wore one of his romantic, otherworldly designs to the 1998 Oscars. (The black satin floor-length waistcoat gown, with a tulle skirt peeking out underneath, remains one of the most memorable red-carpet moments of the past 20 years.)
However, the instant success had challenges of its own, and the designer was unable to manage demand from investors and retailers alike, shuttering the line in 2002, when he was tapped by Rochas to build its ready-to-wear business. But when the house, then owned by Procter & Gamble, folded in 2006, there were rumours that he would attempt to relaunch his own label. Instead, he was hired by Puig to lead Nina Ricci, where he remained until 2011. His appointment at Theory was heralded as an unorthodox, inspired way to craft a designer point of view on the contemporary floor. However, while Theyskens acknowledges the lessons culled from working on that level, he said he wanted the relaunch of his brand to match his own interests.
“I am gathering all the things I learned in Paris as well as in New York; my approach is a mix of all these experiences,” he said. “It’s important, especially when you’re starting a business, to look for excellence.”
What Theyskens and Nicolelli are bent on avoiding, it seems, is a crash-and-burn situation. “I want to have sustainable growth. Craftsmanship and quality is important,” the designer continued. “Not to be too big too early. When it comes to my very personal core, I had this sophistication, which can be understood at this level.”
“I think what is very, very prescient in our minds is the notion of time and the notion of thinking about this from a maison standpoint, from a longterm standpoint,” Nicolelli added. “There are many things that boil down to my business experience, to Olivier’s experience. But there is also a lot of common sense.”
Indeed, as the designer approaches his 40th birthday, he has already lived several fashion lives, and better understands his own ambitions. In any case, his latest incarnation is set to be one of Paris Fashion Week’s most anticipated moments. No small feat in this particularly eventful period of change in fashion.