Aged just 30, Olivier Theyskens is already a big name in the fashion world. He may not be recognised by the man or woman in the street yet, but this Belgian’s Christ-like features could soon be as recognisable as those of his peers Jean-Paul Gaultier and Yves Saint-Laurent. Among luxury fashion professionals, Olivier is already a star designer: the American magazine and fashion “bible” Vogue included him in its list of the seven greatest fashion designers in the world, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America — whose awards are to fashion design what the Oscars are to films — crowned him “Best Foreign Designer” in June 2006. Not bad for a self-taught “p’tit Belge”!
Born in Brussels, Olivier Theyskens’ fashion career quickly got off the ground by completing the fashion design course at the La Cambre College of Art in just two years, and then successfully lobbying the most influential names in the fashion world for stages and then jobs. In 1997, many famous fashionable stars, including the singer Madonna, became his clients, enabling him — at just 20 years old — to launch his own personal brand. His first fashion show in Paris was invaded by press photographers and reporters, who all scented the début of a future star, destined for great things.
Following several years of designing commercially and critically successful collections, Olivier Theyskens was head-hunted to become Artistic Director of the fashion house Rochas in 2002. He lost no time getting down to work for them, and his first collection restored the venerable fashion house’s lost allure and glory, and he became the favourite designer and interview subject of fashion magazine editors worldwide. Then, in 2006, shortly after winning his “Best Foreign Designer” award in the USA, Rochas’ owners, the industrial conglomerate Procter & Gamble, suddenly decided to close down Rochas’ ready-to-wear business, and made Theyskens and his team redundant.
However, this obstacle was easily overcome, and Theyskens turned down dozens of other offers to accept the position of Artistic Director at Nina Ricci, another mythical Paris fashion house that was going through a “sleeping beauty” phase, in October 2006.
Own is a Belgian fashion house run by two French designers, Thierry Rondenet and Hervé Yvrenogeau who met each other in 1989, when they were both studying print-making at the La Cambre College of Art in Brussels. Before this, Thierry had studied Commercial Law and Hervé has been a primary-school teacher for three years, so they both shared the dream of exploring new artistic horizons.
They were joined by a third fellow-fashion-student, Didier Vervaeren, when they launched L’Union pour le Vêtement during their final year at college. At first, the business was a sort of creative amusement for the three partners, who rapidly discovered a creative osmosis between each other. Their design talent was recognised when they received an “Honourable Mention” prize at the prestigious Festival de la jeune création at Hyères in 1994.
Trapped by their unexpected success into the fashion world’s dictates of separate men’s and women’s collections, time-pressure on the design team, the need to deliver orders on time and to design, plan and execute elaborate fashion shows, serious problems developed in the relationships between the partners, which led to the collapse of L’Union pour le Vêtement in 1998.
However, the company’s Japanese distributor managed to persuade Thierry and Hervé to continue designing together. After considerable deliberation, they formed Own, and presented their first menswear collection in January 1999, to rave press reviews. Having learned from their previous experience, the designers were able to develop Own as a successful balance between commercial success and artistic creation. This success led Own to expand into womens’ wear and to open their own superb landmark boutique in Brussels’ Place du Jardin aux Fleurs in 2005.