“The first time I visited Paris and went to the flea market at Porte de Clignancourt I found this beautiful, old bust. It was a rainy day and the bust was soaking wet. I bought it for pretty much no money. And I actually ended up fitting all my first clothes on it. It’s still in my studio..” Little did he know Olivier Theyskens struck gold that day as he walked home with the soppy mannequin. For the next decade or so, the two would make nothing less than fashion history. Olivier draped, pinned, cut and fitted some of this century’s most lauded garments on that piece of stuffed canvas. Since the launch of his own label in 1997, Mr. Theyskens not only resuscitated the houses of Rochas and Nina Ricci, he became known as the man who wanted to “stop global vulgarity”.
It’s not raining today. In fact, it’s unusually hot for a Sunday in October. “I want a Tale!” he had confessed to me a week earlier at his party in London. Olivier is an avid Tales reader and a fellow Belgian expat so naturally our worlds collided in due time. And so we meet inside McDonald’s by the Porte de Clignancourt metro. I am still in shameful denial about devouring that Royal de Luxe, but I feel better knowing Olivier ate two of those monsters, AND fries with mayonnaise, like a true Belgian does. Porte de Clignancourt is a mandatory, much-anticipated fashion week break for many but Olivier had not been back since that fateful rainy day. “I always look for vintage when I’m in need of new clothes,” he says.I decide I need a new outfit to attend the Miu Miu show and it becomes our mission for the afternoon.
I take him straight to see Martine who has the cutest – and tiniest – little vintage store on Rue des Rosiers. There’s always a few great surprises there, jammed in the one stuffed rack or playfully displayed on the cluttered shelves. “It doesn’t stop!” Olivier exclaims standing in the middle of the cramped, dark space. “Every time you look something else catches your eye!” I find an adorable, wool hat with mink pom poms. A few doors down a beautiful Russian girl is standing in her doorway smiling at us as we walk up. She sells mostly designer pieces from the past two decades and happily offers to assist in our search for the Miu Miu outfit. When she pulls out a medusa dress from one of Olivier’s first Rochas collections he is perplexed. He can’t believe he’s already vintage! But even though the dress is my size it’s not exactly appropriate for an afternoon show. I’m not Anna Dello Russo… We move on to the indoor antiques market across the street. Falbalas has men’s and women’s vintage that dates back to the days of bustles and corsets. While Olivier sets his heart on a mini bow tie and tuxedo belt, I decide the dresses are too retro and literal and leave empty handed. The best store on the market in terms of designer pieces is David Roy. It’s bigger and more luxurious than most. And they know their stuff. Olivier heads straight to the counter with a black Thierry Mugler jacket. “This jacket feels really good and I actually like the fact it does not look vintage. I have a lot of vintage but I don’t want it to look passé.” I try on a pretty black-and-white star print YSL dress and a really interesting Indian pant suit but I’m not convinced either of them are right for me and abort my mission.
Olivier describes himself as a “discreet, shy but sharp guy. I don’t dress obvious. There’s a lot of things I would love to wear but I don’t allow myself to because I don’t have the body for them.” I read somewhere that Olivier wanted to be a girl when he was a little. He wanted to wear skirts. “I don’t wear women’s clothing but sometimes you can’t tell if pants or jackets are women’s.” When he travels he always seeks out the poor looking little stores in the hopes of finding that one fantastic piece that will inspire him. He uses vintage to start a dialogue in the design process. “When I don’t have any idea on where I am going in terms of design I always think we have to go find some good vintage that could inspire us but after a while the flow of ideas comes by itself and the vintage pieces end up being distributed to friends.”
Olivier and I will be working closely on the casting for his next Theyskens’ Theory campaign. He was assigned Artistic Director in October 2010 and though Theory is a far leap from the precious demi-couture he was designing at Rochas, he seems to have a wonderful relationship with the company. “We are not married yet but I should probably go find a beautiful ring and make a decent proposal.”
Photos by Terry Gates.