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Olivier Theyskens Named Artistic Director of Theory

The designer will now take over design responsibility for the entire Theory brand as its new artistic director.

NEW YORK — It’s Theory times two for Olivier Theyskens.

In addition to designing the Theyskens’ Theory label, which is launching for spring, he will now take over design responsibility for the entire Theory brand as its new artistic director.

The move will bring Theyskens’ design sensibility to a new global audience. Since bursting onto the fashion scene in 1997, the designer has made a name for himself with an ethereal, romantic and sometimes dark fashion aesthetic for Rochas and Nina Ricci, which made him an industry darling but always kept his clothes reserved for the select few.

By partnering with Theory for Theyskens’ Theory, Theyskens became the latest in a string of high fashion designers to embrace more accessible price points. In his new role, Theyskens is expected to give Theory, which was instrumental in creating the contemporary field when it launched 13 years ago, a fashion jolt while continue to appeal to its existing customer.

The first Theory collection designed by Theyskens will be unveiled for the fall 2011 season.

“Working on Theyskens’ Theory has been very inspiring for me and for the company,” Andrew Rosen, founder and co-chief executive officer of Theory, said. “The launch has been very successful. This is an opportunity to work with Olivier on a much grander scale.”

The idea of expanding Theyskens’ responsibility at the firm crossed Rosen’s mind pretty much from the beginning of their collaboration.

“Working with Olivier on the initial concept for Theyskens’ Theory, I can’t say that I wasn’t thinking about this all along,” he said. “This was a natural progression. In some ways, it may seem radical, but for Olivier and me, it was not radical at all. He has been involved in the culture of the company for the past six months.”

Theyskens’ name frequently comes up in conjunction with top jobs at major European and American fashion houses, but the Belgian designer said he felt drawn to the idea of making clothes that people can wear every day. Many of Theory’s purist design elements have already informed his initial styles for Theyskens’ Theory, which he will continue to design, and he sees much opportunity ahead for the Theory label itself. “There are a lot of things that we can do,” Theyskens said. “It’s very stimulating for me.”

Theyskens is being charged with everything from building the accessories assortment to overseeing men’s wear, an area he so far hasn’t tackled. “I can’t wait,” Theyskens said. “I haven’t designed men’s wear yet, but it’s been on my mind. I feel very comfortable doing men’s wear.”

He also cited a strong rapport with Rosen and the Theory team as a reason he accepted this new role.

Theory has sales of over $500 million, with a global network of retailers that sell the collection. Rosen said Theyskens, whose name is recognized in fashion circles worldwide, will also help build the brand’s global profile. “I feel that Olivier’s creativity and energy is what we need for our global expansion,” he said.

Bringing a name like Theyskens’ to a brand like Theory is also indicative of just how much the contemporary category has evolved since the brand was launched. Rosen played an instrumental role in the shift, having transformed Helmut Lang from a designer label into one of the hottest contemporary lines, and investing into younger names like Alice + Olivia and Rag & Bone, which now compete for the more traditional designer customer.

“The world evolves, people’s tastes evolve and the way of life evolves,” Rosen said. “Fashion has to evolve too. This is a natural evolution. Companies cannot get stuck in one place. The culture of the company won’t change, but the energy and creativity will change because there is a new force involved. Even though the Theory business is very strong, I felt it was important to step up the game. I saw a great opportunity to infuse Theory not only creatively but also energetically with someone like Olivier.”

Istvan Francer, Theory’s design director, is likely to move to another brand within Theory’s Japanese affiliate Fast Retailing Co. Ltd., which owns Uniqlo.

“Istvan has made a tremendous contribution to Theory over the last six years, and I have appreciated his creativity and partnership,” Rosen said. “He and I are currently discussing other opportunities within Fast Retailing.”

Theyskens isn’t saying au revoir to designer clothes for good. He said that he is open to creating one-of-a-kind pieces for special occasions, but, for the time being, quite enjoys exploring the new, more democratic fashion tier, particularly in New York. He just got an apartment in the West Village and, while he will continue to spend much time in Paris, Gotham is a welcome change. “Everybody says there is such a good energy here and I agree,” Theyskens said.