Olivier Theyskens at MoMu
Are you ready for a little bedtime story? It must have been 2011. I was studying fashion design and fixed an internship at the MoMu Fashion museum. It was a short experience, but one I will never forget. On the last day, my fellow interns and I were offered a tour around the archives of the museum. A dream come true! Hidden behind the museum walls, there are multiple rooms full of clothes all stored away in old school rolling cabinets or specially designed boxes. In one of we stopped before a wooden dressmaker’s dummy dressed in a spectacular evening gown. This dreamy confection, all poofy and pink with black lace details stood there, so dramatic and yet so fragile and elegant. It was just one of the latest additions to the already vast collection of the MoMu but to me it was high fashion personified.
You can imagine my delight, when I discovered that this very dress is one of the many highlights in this year’s exhibition She Walks in Beauty. The exhibition invites you into the sensuous world of Belgian wonder boy Olivier Theyskens. This autodidactic designer appeared on the fashion scene about 20 years ago, and got instant recognition for his dark yet romantic vision on women’s fashion. But before I continue with this essay on one of fashion’s mavericks, it’s time for another story, one that made a bigger impact on the fashion scene than my own casual encounter.
Once upon a time, in 1998 there was an American singer eager to sparkle. Madonna was at (one of the many) heights of her career and needed a ballgown for the 1998 VH1 & Vogue Fashion Awards. This all took place during the singer’s Ray of Light period and this particular dress needed to accompany the dark futuristic vibe of that album. After skipping through the pages of Vogue and Harper’s, she found an up and coming designer and immediately fell for his style. I imagine she called her stylist, who then called Olivier Theyskens. Of course Olivier was honoured to design a special dress for the Queen of Pop. After some sketching and draping, a glorious bright yellow dress was created. Olivier knew how good it would suit the star so he offered the dress for free. But on one condition! That the star should dye her hair raven black. And so it happened on that night, that both the names of Madonna AND Olivier Theyskens made fashion history.
Lots of other fashion enthusiasts followed (and paid) for Theyskens’ creations. They were all seduced by these body-clinging, lingerie inspired clothes. Fashion critics often describe his work as ‘Gothic Fashion’. But I quite disagree. Yes, there is an darkness to his work, and yes there are a lot of references to historical fashions. But these influences are always balanced with the brightness and the lightness of the fabrics, the subtlety of the colour pallet and the modernity of the cuts. Soon, he was invited to put his spell on other fashion houses and he soon revitalised French institutions such as Rochas and Nina Ricci. Later he did the same thing with the American brand Theory where he designed straightforward collections for an active and attractive business clientele. Since this kind of work is more than a full time job, he took a few years off only to relaunch his eponymous brand again in 2016.
So if you are sensitive to a little bit of beauty, attracted by creativity and partial towards some good storytelling, I can only advise to visit this exhibition. And don’t forget, never give up dreaming. From all that’s best of dark and bright.
More She Walks in Beauty?
The exhibit will run until March 18, 2018. More information at momu.be.
Text by Jonas Beldé
Pics by Vincent Van Reusel