Full disclosure: not all of us chose to pull all-nighters watching the royal nuptials. Why? This morning, we were invited to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy for their first “Breakfast at 972″ panel discussion. Their inaugural guest of honor was none other than Olivier Theyskens–Theory’s Artistic Director, former designer at Rochas and Nina Ricci, and a longtime Fashionista favorite.
After enjoying coffee and croissants in the main atrium of the gorgeous Fifth Avenue mansion, a small group of (insanely chic, primarily French) guests were ushered in for an intimate chat moderated by Charlotte Sarkozy and Timothée Verrecchia. Theyskens looked totally dapper in a slouchy white Bottega Veneta blazer and a pair of vintage, denim-like trousers he later told us he bought “because they reminded me of the pants the fish vendors at the Les Halles marketplace in Paris wear.” Even for a designer with a famously romantic aesthetic, it seems like simplicity is key.
Some of the morning’s key points:
- On his youth in Brussels, Belgium: “I never really felt like a typical Belgian designer. When I first started out, I was constantly traveling to Italy to look at fabrics and then going to Paris to show my work, so I felt a little bit like a free electrode!”
- On his first impressions of Rochas: “As a Belgian, I honestly didn’t know much about the Rochas name when I was first approached for the job–I knew that they made perfumes! But eventually my friends were like, “It’s OK–Rochas is really cool.” I really started from zero there, from scratch. But in three years, we grew to a team of 20 people. It was mainly about taking this older French brand and making it shine.”
- On why he accepted the position at Nina Ricci: “At that time, the primary relationship I had with the fashion industry was more industrial–and I wanted to make it more personal. Whenever you start at a new brand, you really do have to consider the idea of its institution–that’s something immovable that you have to respect. But at Ricci I was able to bring in my own ideas, create something very personal to me at the same time.”
- On his early discussions with Theory CEO Andrew Rosen and his decision to join the company: “I was out on the streets, seeing what regular girls were wearing and buying, and was like, ‘I should be able to do this!’ I was thinking about an urban look, an urban girl–and you can’t create an urban look without getting inspired by the streets of New York. Everything on the business side of things seemed more complicated than what I was used to–making a certain number of deliveries per year, entering the ‘meat market’ of the New York fashion industry–but then I met with Andrew and it changed. When we started talking, I wasn’t even thinking about working there–just sharing my own ideas and telling him what I wanted to do next–but he told me to look more closely at what was happening at his own brand, and I liked it a lot. I loved that it was totally centered and structured 100% around New York.”
- On the modernization of e-commerce: “It’s changed so much. It used to be more about looking at and buying complete collections, but now it’s about specific, individual pieces. What’s great is that you can flip through a magazine and say, well, I don’t love that entire look, but that’s such a great trouser! Buying online is more fragmented now in that way.”
- On the differences between Theory and Theyskens’ Theory, his self-designed line: “Theyskens’ Theory is much more laborious and very creative, whereas with Theory I’m thinking more about the global brand and how I can interact with it and help it evolve. It’s more about working as part of the team than as a designer. But it helps that I now really understand the time it takes to carry out the entire process. When I ask a seamstress to do something, I know exactly how long it’s going to take her to do it!”
- On globalization: “I think the idea of global style is a wonderful thing. Today, you can travel anywhere in the world and find something, somewhere, that expresses your own point of view. I don’t really believe in the idea of niche markets anymore–it’s more about an international look. My own team at Theory is made up of people from Europe, from Asia…and for us, in the end, it’s just about the process of making. I’ve learned to respect quality, and I love making that quality accessible to everyone now.”
- On Kate Middleton’s wedding gown (you knew it was coming!): “I don’t know Sarah Burton personally, but I think she’s an absolutely incredible designer. I’ve honestly only seen a few small pictures of the dress so far, but I thought it was beautiful in its simplicity. The only thing was…I kept thinking Kate could’ve used some gloves!”