PARIS — Rochas is banking on Olivier Theyskens to steer it out of fashion’s hinterlands.

The Paris fashion and beauty house, which is owned by German cosmetics giant Wella, on Thursday said it has named the precocious Belgian as its new artistic director. This confirms a report in these columns Nov. 7.

Theyskens, 25, replaces Irishman Peter O’Brien, who had been with the house for more than a decade. Although an accomplished tailor, the house said O’Brien failed to infuse the brand with modern energy.

And that’s exactly what Rochas expects Theyskens to do.

"This is a big step toward generating excitement around the Rochas name," said Alain Joly, president of the house. "We are opening a new chapter and we have confidence that Olivier will give us a new, modern, younger feeling. We hope to build our future together."

Marcel Rochas, known for his feminine silhouettes and for inventing a new corset, called the guepiere, founded his house in the Thirties. Following his death in 1955, the company dismantled its fashion operation, opting to concentrate on fragrances.

It was only in 1989, when O’Brien was hired, that a decision was made to revive ready to wear. But the fashion merely served to augment the image of the house’s perfumes.

"Now, we’re committed to fashion and to making it a real business," said Joly, who has been with Rochas for 20 years.

Joly said Theyskens’ runway debut would be next March in Paris. Meanwhile, Rochas plans to reveal Theyskens’ first designs to buyers in a precollection to be unveiled in late January, during the Paris couture.

"We were attracted by Olivier’s feminine vision and his contemporary approach to luxury," said Joly. He said there are no immediate plans to relaunch Theyskens’ signature line, which was discontinued this year when the designer lost financial backing.

Bringing in Theyskens, a top contender for Givenchy before Julien Macdonald was hired, is sure to burnish interest in the brand.

"I absolutely look forward to seeing what he [Theyskens] does for them," said Sarah Easley, an owner of hip Manhattan store Kirna Zabête, which carried Theyskens before he went bust. "I’ve been waiting for him to resurface. There’s really been no one to replace him and I’m sure that with the right people behind him, he’ll be able to do amazing things."Rochas’ fragrance division, which counts about a dozen scents, generates an estimated $120 million in revenues. Other branded products, spanning rtw and some 20 licenses, ranging from men’s neckwear to cognac in Japan, generates an estimated $50 million. Rochas’ top fashion line is carried in only 50 shops around the world, with no accounts in the U.S.

"Going after the U.S. will be a top priority," said Joly. "That Olivier is well known in the U.S. was a key factor."

Joly said there are plans to open a second Rochas boutique in Paris over the next year. Presently, the house’s only flagship is on Rue François Premier, on the Right Bank.

Rochas has been gearing up to relaunch its fashion operation all year, since it brought in Christophe Hebre to spearhead its fashion and accessories division. Hebre’s résumé includes stints with Azzedine Alaïa and Claude Montana.

"Wella’s group strategy is to develop Rochas," said Joly. "We plan to substantially increase our sales."

Theyskens will play a role in developing ideas for future Rochas fragrances. Its most recent scent is Absolu, a youthful perfume slated to bow in the U.S. next year.

Joly added that Theyskens would supervise all of the house’s licenses, including its men’s wear, made by CCE, which also produces collections for Kenzo. He did not rule out the eventuality of a high-end men’s collection designed by Theyskens, nor did he discount the possibility of reintroducing haute couture. But he said it was not an immediate priority.

Theyskens exploded on the scene when Madonna donned one of his dramatic satin coats for the Oscars in 1998. His star continued to ascend with each of his darkly romantic shows.

But last spring, Theyskens’ backer, Isabelle Stevens, pulled the plug on her financial support. Stevens owned 51 percent of Theyskens’ business. Joly said an agreement has been reached to return to Theyskens use of his name. He declined to provide details.

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