You cannot deconstruct unless you know how to construct. - Alexander McQueen

Olivier Theyskens Against Global Vulgarity permalink

The news became public on July 18th that the Rochas atelier in Paris is finished. At the helm was Olivier Theyskens, a 29-year-old designer that inspires both longing and jealousy among his community. My intention in writing this commentary is to augment the article by Lynn Herschberg entitled, “Is There a Place for Olivier Theyskens?” in the New York Times Magazine.

It is difficult to pinpoint why news of the closure affected me so much. Perhaps it is because Mr. Theyskens is my age and represents uncompromising ideals that I like to think reflect my own. These ideals encase the creative vision he intended for the reawakening of Rochas; an incredible responsibility he shouldered with grace. Then there is the matter of his endearing persona seemingly resurrected from the past: the broody, androgynous youth so reminiscent of a 19th century poet. (It is a presence, incidentally, which tends to confuse models – they don’t know whether to cuddle him maternally or have a crush on him.) Perhaps most of the disturbance is due to confusion. Confusion shared by Ms. Herschberg and no doubt many others in the fashion community. How can such rare talent be reduced to a bottom line? Surely this event is symbolic of a greater issue at hand: megabranding and its appeal to the lowest common denominator. This is the beast to which most fashion designers today bow to. If they do, they float and if they don’t, the beast swallows them whole. As misanthropic as I have become as a result of this reality as well as the reality of current events around the world, I maintain hope. I refuse to believe Olivier Theyskens is an anachronism.

olivier theysens backstage fall 2005.jpg
image: Olivier Theyskens backstage at the Rochas a/w 2005 show

A wave of rampant consumerism has washed over all aspects of our life and times, where even the fashion industry - traditionally impervious to marketplace commonalities - finds itself awash in a dichotomy of red and black. Mr. Theyskens was resolved to fight back this wave that dashed against the doors of his house. ‘I am interested in the idea of taste. And by taste, I mean opinion, inspiration and the craft of creating a personality through fabric and design…I would like to stop global vulgarity.’ By “global vulgarity”, says Ms. Herschberg, he means megabranding. “Whether you lived in Kansas or Cairo, you could purchase the same Gucci handbag and thus the same Gucci mood…As much as anything, you were embracing an understood and easily recognizable symbol of desirability”, she explains. These symbols of desirability take the form of shoes, handbags, lipsticks – items that can be easily rebranded season after season and can easily be charged to the credit card. This is key to what Ms. Herschberg refers to as the, “Gucci Global Paradigm”. Since it’s inception by Tom Ford several years ago, the concept has been copied by Marc Jacobs, Yves Saint Laurent, etc. In fact, Mr. Jacobs was the major creative force behind the megabranding of Louis Vuitton handbags, which thankfully can be obtained with government aid along with food and shelter (I am referring to Hurricane Katrina aid money).

lil kim bodybranded.jpg
image: Lil’ Kim body-branded with the Louis Vuitton logo

It used to be that the fashion industry was an appendage of a larger artistic community. As with most artistic and thus intellectual environments, it was shrouded in an atmosphere of exclusivity. Everyone wants to belong but everyone can’t. You have to prove that you can contribute artistically and intellectually. You couldn’t just ask your sister and her PR minions to catapult your debut collection into New York Fashion Week. The exclusivity of high fashion inspired the mood that could be purchased with its product. Traveling halfway around the globe to acquire glass from Venice or a rug from Shiraz may occur once in a lifetime for many people. The journey is part of the experience of acquisition. With the swipe of a credit card anyone can acquire a Gucci or Louis Vuitton handbag in malls across America within 60 seconds. I disagree with Ms. Herschberg that a person can purchase mood with a Gucci handbag. What mood there was has been extinguished, and in fashion the unfillable void left by its absence cannot be ignored for long.

givenchy 1952.jpg
image: Hubert de Givenchy and his Afghan Hound, 1955

Mr. Theyskens refused to sell his first two collections out of school because he felt he wasn’t ready to do so. His refusal to allow the House of Rochas get swept under by the current of megabranding was equally as uncompromising. ‘My sense of designing is a mix of intuition and intellectual control.’ This is part of his process, and if his process is not followed satisfactorily then there is no product for sale. Such is the idealistic artist’s temperament. I believe this idealist will rise from the depths of anachronism to spearhead a new refined era in fashion. Perhaps even John Galliano will cut his marionette strings and together they will present a united front against global vulgarity.

The following is a short retrospective in honor of work Mr. Theyskens has done for the House of Rochas:

rochas fall 2003.jpg
image: Rochas a/w 2003

rochas spring 2004.jpg
image: Rochas s/s 2004

rochas fall 2004.jpg
image: Rochas a/w 2004

rochas spring 2005.jpg
image: Rochas s/s 2005

rochas fall 2005.jpg
image: Rochas a/w 2005

rochas fall 2005 2.jpg
image: Rochas a/w 2005

rochas fall 2005 3.jpg
image: Rochas a/w 2005

rochas fall 2005 4.jpg
image: Rochas a/w 2005

rochas fall 2005 5.jpg
image: Rochas a/w 2005

rochas fall 2005 6.jpg
image: Rochas a/w 2005

rochas spring 2006.jpg
image: Rochas s/s 2006

rochas fall 2006.jpg
image: Rochas a/w 2006

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7 Responses to “Olivier Theyskens Against Global Vulgarity” 

  1. Judy Slaughter Says:

    I would like to contact Mr. Theyskens to send him a picture of my daughter in his dress that was used as a wedding dress. Judy Slaughter

  2. eliza m Says:

    He is the most talented designer to have come out from this decade. His ideas are original , witty and above all he has got more class than all the tom fords of the world combine.

  3. William Grover Theyskens, Jr. Says:

    My paternal grandfather, Francois Theyskens, left Belgium for San Francisco, arrivinng in January 1918 at the age of 34. He was born in Ontawerp, Belgium. I have looked for and never found another Theyskens outside of my immediate family in the US. Olivier and I may very well be related!

    Olivier’s notoriety may be s a double-edged sword - if he wasn’t so famous I wouldn’t have found him via a Google search, but his being as famouus as he is may make it very difficult for me to get in touch with him. If anyone knows how I could contact Olivier to determine if we are indeed related, I would be very grateful.

    From what I have been reading, Olivier sounds like a very intellligent, soft spokem, and modest person. My grandfather passed away when I was three, but my father, who passed away two years ago this month, had these same traits. He was a real joy to know - very intelligent, funny, kind and principled.

    Anyhow, if anyone knows how to get this email to Olivier, or another way for me to try to contact him, I would really appreciate that information. I am an Engineering Geologiist and Hydrogeologist living in Prunedale, Monterey County, California. Thanks ahead of time for any help I may get! Take care.

    Bill Theyskens
    (831) 663-1302

  4. Georges Legein Says:

    Monsieur Olivier Theyskens
    Le simple hasard fait que ma grand mère Maria Theyskens
    est la soeur de votre arrière grand-père.
    Rien de spécial si ce n’est que cette filation m’a mis en psoosssion d’un oblet insolite crée par un de vos grands oncles dit “l’inventeur”.

    Vu que les souvenirs sont mieus chez eux,je voudrais vous le donner.L’objet,de 40 cm de haut,avec une plaque en fonte
    avec la mantion Theyskens -Testelt,donc le berceau de votre famille.

    L’objet se trouve à Uccle et est à votre disposition gracieusement.

    Meilleures salutations,

    Georges Legein

  5. ? Says:

    nice ^^

  6. zouzou Says:

    you are very right in your article, although I do find and like the fact that he is an anachronism. In order to survive -and thrive- he must go the way of Azzedine Alaia and inspire some sort of cult following, of course for that he must also find a Patron/ess who would appreciate his sensibilities and support his endeavours without the limitations that capitalists impose on other designers…. the point is he has to survive, he is to beautiful to die …

  7. Katie Miles Says:

    Well said, zouzou. His move to Theory shows that he is adapting and surviving. Though he’s going the big brand route, he will apparently have access to quality materials and have full creative control. It will be interesting to see how well he fits into this new directorship.

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