PARIS — Olivier Theyskens may not know what to expect Tuesday when he debarks at Barneys New York for his first official appearance at an American store.
But the 26-year-old Belgian hopes that meeting the buying public will finally help him gauge how real women react to his debut collection for the house of Rochas.
“I’ve never done this type of thing before,” Theyskens confessed over lunch. “I can’t imagine what people will think of the clothes. But the idea was actually mine. I told Julie [Gilhart, vice president of fashion merchandise at Barneys] that I’d like to organize it to get another point of view. I hope the event is very calm and very simple because I want to have the time to really meet with the women, to talk to them and to understand their feeling for the clothes.”
After gaining a strong reputation for mysterious goth glamour with his own, now-discontinued label, Theyskens joined Rochas late last year. The elegant, yet audacious, couture-inspired dresses he showed in his first collection last March captivated critics and retailers, with Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Jeffrey and Barneys all picking up the line, which had no previous presence in the U.S.
But Theyskens knows that runway and reality are separate aspects in the fashion formula. “I was happy to get such a positive reaction from the press,” said Theyskens. “But even if it hadn’t been so warmly received, it wouldn’t have mattered. It could have hurt personally, but it wouldn’t have mattered. I know we have a lot to achieve at Rochas before we finally arrive.”
Theyskens said he recognizes the road will be long, “but I’m interested in really going for it and laying it on the line. I don’t want to do anything that leaves anyone indifferent.”
To wit: Theyskens explained that his choice to show strong silhouettes for fall, such as hunchback jackets and dramatic bustier dresses that envelope the body like a cream puff, was meant to be provocative and arresting.
“A dress like a puff may be difficult,” Theyskens allowed. “It’s not for everybody. Yet, strangely, the difficult silhouettes sold well. And that’s what I was feeling. If you can’t put all of yourself into a collection, to experiment with volumes, what’s the use? Creatively, I have to let myself go.“There’s a lot of meat and potatoes in fashion right now,” he continued. “It doesn’t do anybody any harm. But that’s not what gets people excited. That’s what we’re trying to do. We want to have a strong voice.”
Founded in the Thirties by Marcel Rochas, a couturier known for his feminine silhouettes and for inventing a bustier called the guepiere, the house discontinued its fashion operation, concentrating on fragrance, when Rochas died in 1955.
German cosmetics giant Wella then purchased Rochas in the late Eighties and resurrected the fashion as an image machine. But Irish designer Peter O’Brien, on whom the house called, failed to generate buzz.
Now, boosted by Theyskens’ strong debut, the house is brimming with projects. Theyskens plans to remodel Rochas’ Paris flagship this fall. The house hopes a second unit in Paris will bow within the next year. And accessories and footwear collections are in the pipeline for introduction to the trade in October.
Although Theyskens insists he wants to take his time to “get it right,” there is talk that a fragrance with the designer’s imprimatur will be readied for sometime next year.
Meanwhile, Theyskens harbors personal projects. He has not ruled out reintroducing his signature line, for example. And after designing costumes for a production this spring of Verdi’s “I Due Foscari” in Brussels, he said he’d like to pursue similar projects in the future.
“If I had an idea I wanted to express, I’d put it into my own line, and maybe show it as couture,” he said. “And the opera was a fantastic experience. It was very liberating.”
For now, Theyskens has plenty on his hands. “Rochas is a long-term project,” he explained. “I’ve got a clear idea in my head how the development should proceed. Each new step is a brick. We’re laying a foundation for the future.”
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