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

Olivier Theyskens (pronounced "tay-skens") has the sort of typically grand name that sits well among fashion's nobility. At just 22 years old, the Belgian designer based in Brussels has already scooped accolades usually reserved for time-honoured big names, the most prestigious of which came last year when Madonna called on him to design her Oscar-night outfit - a dramatic black satin coat dress (left) - seen by 87 million viewers worldwide. But with just three shows under his belt, he seems to feel he has earned himself the right to be mysterious.

"'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

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

    Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

    salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower