Theory creative director Olivier Theyskens was in Los Angeles last week to appear at a sold-out lecture hosted by the Costume Council of LACMA, moderated by Arianne Phillips, Madonna’s longtime stylist, a BAFTA nominated (A Single Man) and Oscar-nominated costume designer (Walk The Line, W.E.) Phillips first met Theyskens — who held top spots at Rochas and Nina Ricci before taking his current post in 2010 — in 1997, when was in Paris doing a photo shoot with Madonna and was so taken by some of his designs that she used them in the shoot. This launched a longtime collaboration. Phillips even recalls taking a dress right off of Theyskens' 1998 runway for Madonna to wear to the 1998 VHI Music Awards and having Theysken’s protective father shake his finger, saying, “ You better be very careful with this dress!”
Today, the designer is making waves at his new-ish post, where he is bringing an edgy-yet-wearable, European sensibility to a contemporary skirt that was once the ultimate go-to for a good "work suit."
We sat down with the 2006 CFDA award-winner to find out his thoughts on this year's Met Gala, the art of the red carpet and the highlight of his fashion career, thus far.
The Hollywood Reporter: Besides Madonna, who were some of your other early supporters?
Olivier Theyskens: Vogue editor Polly Mellen was a very early supporter of my work. Oh, and Elsa Klensch. I always watched her show every Sunday, Style on CNN. I was obsessed with her and her show and when she came to one of my shows, I was so shocked!
THR: You used to live and work in Paris, but for the past three years have called New York home. How do you like being in The States?
OT: I live in the West Village, close to the Theory offices in the meat-packing district. Living in New York is not that different from being in Paris. I do the same things every day, working on design and fittings. We have our own atelier and its better than anything I have experienced before.”
NOT JUST PENCIL SKIRTS: Just five months after joining Theory in May 2010 with his Theyskens Theory capsule collection, the Belgian-born designer was appointed creative director of the entire Theory brand.
THR: What do you like about Los Angeles?
OT: I come frequently to LA, which I love. I go to the beach, see friends. It’s a city I adore. There is so much eclectic architecture; stone houses, glass houses, 50’s, 70’s and ‘90s style homes. It's so hard to choose. I recently visited a Charles Eames house and it was a little jewel. Glass and metal, small and beautiful. I have gone to the Huntington Gardens to see the cactus ardens. I hope one day I will have a little house here. But how do people manage to work here? It’s so relaxing.
THR: You’ve dressed Madonna, Kate Bosworth and Nicole Kidman in the past. Now that you're a global retail designer are you still interested in dressing celebrities for red carpets?
OT: I have had great experiences and traumatic experiences. It’s very different to design clothes that people will adopt and buy than to make them for one person. I’m always very happy when I make a design and people like it. But you have to have a personal connection with the person. And usually, you end up being in contact with people who work for the celebrities. It’s a relationship that is troubling to me. I prefer to work directly with the person.
THR: You were at the recent Met Gala "Punk: Chaos to Couture" in New York with model Doutzen Kroes wearing one of your designs. What did you think of the event and the exhibit?
OT: It was great, impressive, as always. It’s a major event that draws a lot of stars without them getting any awards. That to me is the best thing about it. People come without looking for an award, just to be part of a glamorous event and showing themselves in glamorous dresses. And the Met costume exhibits are always gorgeous. This year wasn’t an easy one to handle because all the real vintage punk clothes are just destroyed. They don’t exist anymore. The street punk movement caused designers to do punk-inspired couture. I don’t know now punky they really wanted to it be, but in the end, it was more about the couture version of punk.
THR: You designed Lena Dunham's dress for the Gala. Tell us about that.
OT: It was a mystery for me. it was so unexpected. I had not seen Girls but all my friends were talking about it and I got to meet her and she was very interested. She knew my work. I like to work with a celebrity that you can reveal, that you can think about and imagine, proposing a new vision to develop their image. I made her a beaded dress, short and cocoony, it was really really cute on her. She was very sweet. But now I am more focused on the retail side of the business.
IN THEORY: The airy interior of Theory's Los Angeles boutique (8428 Melrose Ave., L.A.).
What is one of your current favorite pieces in Theory's Melrose boutique?
OT: The little suit coat with transparent sequins. It’s a very easy piece with pockets on the side and zip up the front so it can be a dress or a coat. I like the simplicity.
THR: I notice your pre-Fall collection is already in the boutique. Can you talk about it?
OT: Yes, it’s a very transitional collection and I was very inspired by rainy England, the blue-ish greens and browns, a bit of orange. I’m very happy to see the collection is being delivered now. I love the sweaters, the tight pants, the tailoring, silk blouses and the little skirts.
THR: What from your Theory line would you recommend for the L.A. woman?
OT: We do not really change the collections for the markets. We want Theory to be a global brand. But we do think about cities where it is warmer. We propose then more easy light things in winter, more white clothes and more choices of cottons and linens than in New York."