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[Design Forum] ‘Bringing emotion to people’

Olivier Theyskens, former artistic director of Rochas, Nina Ricci and Theory, talks about fashion design ahead of Herald Design Forum next week

Belgian fashion designer Olivier Theyskens debuted in the high fashion world with a much-praised show for Rochas in 2003. Imbued with Parisian elegance, Theysken’s creations were regarded as a redefinition of haute couture, as he made it relevant to younger people. His fresh take on fashion continued when he moved to Nina Ricci in 2006 and to Theory in 2011 as creative director.

His creations fascinated many young women who wanted to look chic and sleek while retaining a feminine and romantic ambience. Theyskens took elements of fashion ― proportions, silhouettes, colors and tailoring ― to the next level in his “fashionable and visionary” capsule collection Theyskens’ Theory.

Currently taking a break after four years as the creative director at Theory, Theyskens is expected to speak to a Korean audience at the Herald Design Forum on Nov. 26 in Seoul. In advance of his lecture titled “Sensual Design for Fashion,” in which he will talk about his quest in fashion and unique design identity, he shared his fashion inspirations and values in an interview with The Korea Herald. 
Fashion designer Olivier Theyskens (OT official portrait/Thomas Whiteside)
Fashion designer Olivier Theyskens (OT official portrait/Thomas Whiteside)

KH: What made you want to become a fashion designer? Could you share some personal anecdotes about how you learned that fashion was your true calling?

Theyskens: It almost looks like I was born to be a fashion designer. I spent most of my childhood time playing with clothes and drawing them. I remember someone told me that I could make a living out of making clothes one day. That’s when I started to say I would be a fashion designer when other kids at my school said they would become a fireman or an astronaut.

KH: Could you explain your fashion philosophy?

Theyskens: I value things that truly inspire me and make me set higher goals in my work process. It’s important that my vision for fashion has integrity and I constantly seek to perfect my technical skills and search for aesthetics at every step. I want my work to bring emotion to people.

KH: What are your sources of inspiration? Have they changed during your fashion career?

Theyskens: My creative process is constantly evolving. I don’t like to repeat myself and I get excited by bringing my designs to other people’s lives. Anything can be my source of inspiration ― from the energy of some music, a recollection of the past, feeling of an attitude, particularity of some colors and shapes. What’s around you also triggers your creativity ― such as art, nature, people and (what you see on the) street.

KH: What is the most difficult part of your design process?

Theyskens: To create your own design brings many challenges and it is important to face all of them without losing sight of the result you are aiming for. It takes time and energy to develop collections. There are always good and bad surprises because new things always have their dose of risk. Fashion design is (something that involves) teamwork and everything has to be done in the best energy possible with confidence in the future and no drama.

KH: Among the collections you have designed, which is the most memorable for you?

Theyskens: The most memorable collection could be my first one because I made it entirely with my own hands and I find the imperfections very charming today. I am also proud that I started it with all my guts and was not afraid at all to take on challenges.

KH: A lot of designers collaborate with others in different industries. What’s your take on this? What does it mean for a celebrity to wear your design?

Theyskens: I always like to see that there is a bridge between various forms of design. And I think designers can sometimes understand each other very well. It’s a huge asset that you have someone who shares the same brilliance in design. It’s not a bad thing if you have confrontational ideas with them, which is helpful in the end. It has been thrilling for me if celebrities wear my design. It’s crucial to get strong support in the beginning stage of your fashion design.

KH: How important is commercial success to you? Why and why not?

Theyskens: Commercial success is a factor that enables a brand to expand, gain respect and protect its positioning and identity in the market. It’s important for me that goal is reached.

KH: How do you interpret your own identity in your fashion design?

Theyskens: My role as a designer is to introduce something new and a creative vision, but still make it desirable in the market. It’s frightening for a designer to seem conventional, so I think it is imperative to learn to develop your own identity.

By Lee Woo-young (