Fashion

In 1998, Olivier Theyskens reinvented gothic fashion

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Welcome to Forgotten Runway, a deep dive into some of the most niche presentations in fashion history that still have an impact to this day. In this series, writer Kristen Bateman interviews the designers and people who made these productions, revealing what made each one so special.

Olivier Theyskens’ Fall 1998 runway perfectly encapsulates the New Wave Goth look of the 90s. Demanding leather corsets with incisive boning, a ceremonial blood-red aorta embroidered in linens, and ghostly powdered faces with crawling model hands bound at the heads and waists of the models floated down the runway to a jarring soundtrack featuring screaming famous women, including Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly last summer and Jodie Foster is breathing heavily Thesilenceofthelambs. “I was still doing everything myself,” the designer explained from his Paris studio via Zoom on a recent afternoon. Sheer bodysuits and see-through dresses that looked like couture plastic bags were the first indication that the designer was going to be big. It was Theyskens’ first exhibition in Paris, and ultimately, the one that would put the designer on the map, immersing him in the canon of great design legends – and later cementing his position as creative director for Rochas, Nina Ricci and theory. .

For the designer and the industry at large, Olivier Theyskens’ 1998 fall show opened the doors to an incredibly distinct vision, one that still lives on. The best shows are a mix of emotion, novelty and, at best, a bit of discomfort. This presentation had all of that and more.

Courtesy of Olivier Theyskens

Not only was the fall 1998 collection one of the designer’s favorites, but it also remains an epic homage to the era’s flourishing subcultures. Today, the same kind of gothic look, with a heavy touch of patchwork and upcycling, is everywhere – and Theyskens helped define it for the Parisian fashion scene in the 90s. What’s most interesting about Theyskens’ Fall 1998 collection is that he didn’t really associate it with Gothic codes at the time: “I had no idea at the time what Gothic was,” says- he laughs. “For me, Gothic was linked to churches and cathedrals. I was naturally driven to find the girl, to make her beautiful and sophisticated.

Courtesy of Olivier Theyskens

The show, which marks the designer’s second collection, took place in 1998 in an abandoned location mansion on avenue Winston Churchill in Paris. The previous year, Theyskens had shown his Gloomy Trips collection in a Belgian collective exhibition. (He was encouraged to give a presentation in Paris by French press representative Kuki de Salvertes, who is also associated with helping Raf Simons rise to fame.) Theyskens was living in Brussels, Belgium at the time, where he was an ex-student who recently dropped out of the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels de la Cambre to launch his own line. There, he exclusively recycled fabrics; mostly, traditional French textiles that her grandmother gave her. “My family in France was made up of very simple people who lived on a farm,” he says. “I always liked that when I was a kid, because it was like living in the 19th century, with all those old sheets in the bed.”

Courtesy of Olivier Theyskens

“Those very early collections, particularly Spring 1998 and followed by Fall 1998, I still consider them the real roots of my aesthetic,” Theyskens adds, holding up a bag of inky black antique French jet beads that he kept from the collection. , about 24 years later. “I connected to these collections because they were just what I wanted to do. I was driven by a form of almost unconscious energy. I was working like crazy and not just thinking. like, ‘Oh, what am I going to do? What is the color of the season?’ I was just doing everything I could.

Courtesy of Olivier Theyskens

Back to the show: Short, fleshless, Victorian-shaped shrugs mixed with midnight-hued furs trailed the wooden floors, while models showed off light bodysuits with blood-streaked hearts. Theyskens’ attention to shape and craftsmanship was on full display through the poorly structured corset coat-dresses, which were finished with hook-and-eye flashes down the front. Lace bodysuits and low-rise pants had the appeal of something old mingling with new; the high shoulders of a pink and red striped coat dress with matching boots delivered the color with extreme madness.

The chill factor was there – and really, was a major contributor to making the show so emotional – namely: the clawed model hands. They covered models – most of whom were friends of the designer – as they walked. “In my sketches, I had realistic proportions and details. Many of the sketches had these hands holding the face. It was a way for me to imagine that these girls had been manipulated or detained,” Theyskens recalled.

Courtesy of Olivier Theyskens

This impending sense of discomfort was entirely intentional. “We used a lot of things that we felt were extremely oppressive,” he says. “From the reaction I got at the time, a lot of people were there, some weren’t feeling very well.” Despite all this (and the fact that nothing Theyskens designed was yet for sale), industry insiders visited him after the show for over a week, praising his work. The same week Theyskens held her Fall 1998 runway, Madonna wore one of her satin coat dresses to the Oscars, styled by Arianne Phillips, which also caused the industry to notice the young Belgian designer widely. unknown.

Courtesy of Olivier Theyskens

Adding to the collection’s distinct aesthetic is the austere make-up created by fellow Belgian make-up artist Peter Philips. “I met Peter at my very first show in Belgium, which was a multi-brand show,” Theyskens explains. “He had a bit of carte blanche. Looking at my sketches, he really wanted to make a Dangerous Liaisons, overpowering face. He was brushing his lashes with tissue packs, and there was this super defined red lip.

The backstage scene of Olivier Theyskens’ presentation in the fall of 1998.

Photograph by Marleen Daniels

Immediately after the presentation, Theyskens broke down in tears. “The show was an absolute mess in a good way, which I think is always good for a debut show,” he says. While you can’t tell from the photos or the industry rave reviews at the time, there wasn’t enough room for guests, so the backstage area was turned into a lounge area. “Literally, the girls were dressing up and changing outfits in front of guests in one of the bedrooms,” Theyskens says. “And in a way, apparently, it was absolutely brilliant.”

Backstage at Olivier Theyskens autumn 1998.

Photograph by Marleen Daniels

In many ways, it feels like Theyskens is coming full circle in 2022. For his Spring 2023 show, which took place in September this year, the designer used archival fabrics and materials from his collections past, including the fall of 1998. work a lot more now in the same way I worked when I started,” he says. “I do everything here in small batches. I’m not shy to keep loving some of these shapes. Theyskens is a collector of divinely beautiful objects, antique textiles and materials. That’s what we see in each of his collections: a collage of his uniquely dark artisanal vision; beloved today, as fashion turns to a darker aesthetic.

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