Fashion: Ray Of Light
Olivier Theyskens is the latest Belgian to join the fashion elite. And after designing an Oscar-night dress for Madonna, the 22 year old is already famous enough to be shunning publicity, writes Rebecca Lowthorpe. Styling by Sophia Neophitou. Photographs by Justin Smith
Saturday 24 April 1999
"'Ee likes to be, 'ow do I say eet? A secret?" says his press attache in Paris. So, not only is a chat over the phone with the reclusive designer "forbidden", but even a portrait of the young turk is also strictly interdit. (For the record, he has the brooding good looks of a waif-like rock star.) Maybe his fast fame has terrified him into hiding; or perhaps he feels his coverage in the media has reached saturation point. After all, Theyskens, while patently not one for courting the press personally, has had his extraordinary clothes showcased in the world's hard-core fashion publications, from i-D and Dazed & Confused to the glossiest of glossies Harper's Bazaar.
But in a fashion climate where modern minimalism reigns supreme, there is something undeniably exciting about his work which quite possibly warrants the blaze of admiration offered up by fashion aficionados at the mere mention of his name.
Minutes after his first collection, held in a crumbling chateau in Paris, there was talk of his "star quality". A clever concoction of vintage heavy linen table-cloths and monogrammed napkins were sewn (by his own fair hands no less) into structured corsets and bustle-backed draped skirts - a sort of industrial romanticism with more than a few references to Victoriana. Even then, last March, a macabre element was evident in the form of a nude bodysuit embroidered with a blood-red heart and sprawling capillaries, which was sent out on the runway to the sound of an amplified heartbeat. (Post-show, androgynous American rock star Marilyn Manson wanted to buy it, but it didn't fit him.)
In his second show, Theyskens took the morbid theme one step further when, in a bleak warehouse on the outskirts of Paris, he issued Gothic black satin coat dresses, fit for the bride of Frankenstein, and of course for Madonna on Oscar night.
Apart from more sinister moments, when models' pale necks dripped with stuffed black nightingales (kooky and spooky), Theyskens appeared to have squirreled his inspirations out of his grandmother's attic. Coats and jackets were done up antique-style with hooks and eyes, shoulders were high and rounded, and Edwardian capes with exaggerated necklines that reached the jaw were delicately sprinkled with jet beads. Among the vintage-boutique-come-Morticia-Addams attire there was a shot at something more gentle, optimistic even: chiffon blouses and full peasant skirts with handkerchief hems in emerald, fuchsia and sunflower yellow gave a commercial spin to his more austere lines.
"It was a very strong and very original collection," says Josephine Turner of A la Mode, who bought the brightest pieces for her prestigious Knightsbridge store and has made a name for herself showcasing young international design talent, including Antonio Berardi and, in his early days, John Galliano. "Theyskens' pieces don't all look as if they come from the Belgian school, in that dark, Gothic way. He is very modern, creating intricate designs with some considerable talent. The construction is superb: inside-out they're like haute couture."
The Belgian school to which Turner refers includes other recent hotshots Veronique Branquinho, An Vandevorst and Filip Arickx (who design under the AF Vandevorst label), Raf Simons and Bernhard Willhelm - all of whom hail from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium's equivalent to London's Central Saint Martins. These new names recently joined the stellar triumvirate of Belgian designers - Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela - whose sombre deconstructed aesthetic turned fashion on its head in the late Eighties.
However, with his leaning towards a futuristic Gothic aesthetic and predilection for dramatic shapes in dark colours, some of Theyskens' work could reasonably be seen as coming from the same dour if beautiful mindset as his contemporaries. What sets him apart, however, is his tailoring, so strict and extreme it is more reminiscent of Alexander McQueen's than anyone further afield.
Whatever, Theyskens, despite his complete disregard for kissy-kissy fashion protocol, can seemingly do nothing wrong. Instead, he clearly intends to exploit any mystique that has by now sprung up in his wake. And who can blame him? After all, Martin Margiela, the godfather of Belgian fashion, has been producing his own label for almost 10 years without ever having allowed a face-to-face interview or his portrait to be published. His avoidance of publicity has never done him any harm. So, for the time being at least, Olivier Theyskens is not available for comment
Above: Madonna takes Theyskens (and her brother Christopher) to the Oscars in 1998
Right Frock coat, pounds 1,500
Stylist's assistant Holly Wood
Make-up Dina for Max Factor at Industry
Model Ruth Taylor at Premier
Clockwise from top left Chiffon check shirt, pounds 135; circle skirt, pounds 500. Jacket, pounds 495; wide trousers, pounds 300. Chiffon vest, to order; knitted hipster leggings, pounds 205. Leather trousers with skirt worn as top, pounds 560. All by Olivier Theyskens available from A la Mode, 36 Hans Crescent, London SW1. Enquiries 0171-584 2133
arts + entsThere were towering ideas, some scintillating performances and revelatory grooves... our writers pick out their personal highlights
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
elephant appealPrince William signs up for our charity appeal
peoplePrepare to be entranced by worms as the molecular biologist gets ready to give the Royal Institution science lectures
elephant appealSo says man jailed for cutting off dead elephant's tusks
booksWe examine the best titles for teens
voicesPeople moan that Christmas is too commercial, the spirit lost. But it is a time to over-indulge, and always has been, says DJ Taylor
scienceResearchers teach border collie to understand sentences using more than 1,000 words
booksA Christmas story in six parts
travelWill high-value tourism help the workshops of this Renaissance city?
food + drinkA trifle without custard? Surely not! Nonsense – and here’s three to finish your festive meal that prove it
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
Life & Style blogs
Drunken assaults, drug abuse, spiked drinks – and a young couple in a pine tree: Not a very merry Christmas for the paramedics
The 10 Best Scotch Whiskies
America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
GTA 5: Rockstar bans gamers stealing in-game money worth millions
Winter Solstice 2013: Shortest day of the year marked with 'knitted' Google Doodle
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
David Cameron takes his biggest gamble yet as he gets tough on Europe over immigration
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
Top PR exec Justine Sacco under fire for sending racist tweet before flying to Africa
- 1 Top PR exec Justine Sacco under fire for sending racist tweet before flying to Africa
- 2 French pub fined €9,000 after customers returned empties to bar - because it's 'undeclared labour'
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 The publisher who played with fire: the battle for control of Larsson's £30m legacy
- 5 Police seize possessions of rough sleepers in crackdown on homelessness
£40000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits : Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer (WPF...
£45000 - £65000 per annum + London: Harrington Starr: Senior Automation QA Eng...
Negotiable: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: Year 6 Teacher - Gilli...
Negotiable: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: Teacher of English - S...