Olivier Theyskens On Teen Vogue, YSL, & Being Addicted To TV

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oliviertIf you happened to find yourself at Times Square on Saturday morning, you noticed that the usual tourist crowd looked a lot more stylish than usual. That's because hundreds of girls from around the country flew into New York this weekend to attend Teen Vogue's annual Fashion University — an amazing, nonstop round of intimate seminars, lectures, and meet and greets with some of the industry's biggest names. Grown-up teens in Miu Miu booties, embellished collars, and all the other things that make up that particular Teen Vogue aesthetic crowded into the Hudson Theater to get a healthy dose of inspiration and motivation (and take their first step on the way to a major career in fashion).

But this was more than just a see-and-be-seen event for young bloggers. A handful of amazing designers, journalists, and industry experts were there to answer live questions and offer their personal point of view on fashion today and what it takes to succeed. We caught up with featured lecturer and renowned designer Olivier Theyskens about his involvement in this year's Fashion U, his amazing designs for working women's staple Theyskens' Theory, and life after hours.

Why is Teen Vogue Fashion U attractive to you?
"I’m always interested in exposing my experience to students who are curious to know better and want to get more involved. When you start, you have a lot of insecurities and questions, and you have also preconceived ideas."

You've been drawing, sewing, and designing since a very young age. What's one piece of advice you would give to a stylish self-starter?
"I always see that in school, one of the struggles for professors is to help students understand that they can be different, that they can develop their own creativity, and that they can sort of dig into whatever they’re interested in. It's also important to learn how to start seeing your work from a distance…this is one of the big things that students of fashion have to learn. There’s the technique, but also learning that your point of view might count and might matter in the future, so you must develop it and make it more interesting."

Do you think a formal education is essential to work in fashion?
"It’s essential to have some formal education, but it's also essential to have a mind-set that is ready to go against it or ready to decide to do something different. It's important that your mind be very strong. Yes, it’s good to understand, to learn, to see, but, at the same time, you must be free to make a decision that goes in the opposite of what you’ve learned. I've always been interested to learn about all the eras in fashion and about old strategies of the past — and understand that they evolve and that they have to change. You learn about how things are today and how they have been in the past, but in two or three years, maybe you will break that."

What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career so far?
"To always be in tune with my character, but it took a long time for people to understand that I was constantly evolving. I would do something radically different from what I did three years ago, six years ago, and eventually I learned how to stop certain people from putting me in a box. That’s not always easy. For example, a designer's first collection may have a lot of success because it's all about prints, but the person must have the courage, if prints are not really what he or she wants to do their entire design life, to find a way to get rid of it, to discover how to develop other things. Otherwise, it becomes trite. I’m not scared to get rid of everything when I feel it's necessary."

You've worked with some very different design houses. Do you think it's important, as a designer, to accomodate a brand's pre-existing aesthetic?
"I think you need to be consistent with the environment you’re in. I would compare it to an actor. If an actor chooses a certain movie, it's because he feels there’s going to be a certain alchemy between the script, the director, and what he can bring. My daily life is all about interaction. I’m involved with so many people, and I'm open enough to let all these influences come in. I don't want to be the guy alone at the table with his sketches — it’s not natural. That's why I wanted to call it Theyskens' Theory — to bring in that element of the company that is so inspiring to me when I design here. Even when I was working in Parisian houses, I wanted to have a personal approach, but in the context of those particular names. It opens new possibilities to design things that you would never have done in other circumstances."

We see such a difference between couture and ready-to-wear these days. Is it important to you, designing for such a wearable brand like Theory, to bridge that gap?
"I remember in the late '90s when I first started out, designers that were considered more experimental and more artistic actually weren't showing crazy collections. The clothes were more real, yet the ready-to-wear in general was and still is very couture. Even when the look reflects the street, when you get closer, you have so much detail, so much more going on, and the cost of it is very, very high. The collections today represent a very high level of what they can do, and it's almost very couture-ish, in many cases. But a lot of brands today are trying to create the feeling that you can really wear these clothes. I think that's the way I approach the clothing here. I’m always thinking, 'Would I wear that if I was that girl?' I’m more into the wearability of clothes in our lives, rather than creating an aesthetic that is a projection of something abstract."

What did you think of Hedi Slimane's first collection for YSL?
"First of all, I don't know about the way he reacts to what people say…I would not say anything. I would say nothing. I think that people are so impatient, so many projects don’t take the time to settle. I’m not a fashion analyst but I see how people are willing to put a collection in a box so early. We have no idea what [Hedi Slimane] will do next. People want to decide now whether the collection is good or not, but these clothes need the time to end up in the store, to be seen worn, to be mixed with a new season, a new year."

Do you have a mentor?
"I’ve always liked to talk to important people in the industry who do things that I don’t — managers, journalists, different type of designers. Those with the longest experience are automatically the most interesting and compelling people to me. Of course, Karl is amazing. Miuccia is amazing."

Do you have a guilty pleasure or a hobby that helps you unwind?
"I’m busy working, but I think here at Theory, we are well-organized enough that we can have a life on the side. For a lot of my friends that are still in Paris, sometimes that's very difficult. I don't know why they’re working until one in the morning a month before the show. When I see the show, I’m like, 'What were you guys doing? You’re really disorganized!'"

Do you have a favorite book or TV show?
"I love to read, but I take time. When I get inside a book, then that's all I'm doing until I finish. I’m very easily addicted. I try to stay away from things that will absorb too much of my time. If I see an episode of something, I will watch all five seasons in a week. It’s crazy. I have to keep away from these sort of things — these little traps. For years, I watched no TV, because it was really trapping me. I was designing romantic dresess in front of the stupidest TV programs because I was addicted! I’ve been addicted to music, to the web, but I wouldn’t consider starting anything new. At one point, it got so ridiculous that I designed without music for a year. I try to push myself to not get trapped."

Is there any celebrity you'd like to dress?
"This is not my favorite thing on earth. I like to think that what I’m doing is for whomever. I would love to work on an artist’s project, like a film. But I understand celebrities are also in our world…but who wears what was more impactful in the early 2000s than today. I think that today everybody wears everything. They’re more interested to see how wrong you are than how right you are. If you want a lot of publicity, maybe you have to fuck up a dress and make something really terrible…it’s almost to that point. Celebrities are not the best support for a brand. Hopefully, the Internet is helping us, because now you can get your work into more clever places, but I don’t feel that brands are as stimulated as before when stars wear the clothes."

Photo: Ryan Bailey/Courtesy of Teen Vogue.