Backstage at the Theyskens’ Theory show in February, the soft-spoken French hairstylist Odile Gilbert paused to offer a succinct and rather unusual quote about the models’ transformed appearances: “Olivier has very strong opinions about how the girls should look…he’d like for them to look like him.”
On a recent sunny afternoon in Theyskens’ Meatpacking District atelier, I asked the designer about Gilbert’s comment, as well as his thoughts on beauty.
“That’s a way of making it short. [Laughs] It’s very funny, because actually I’ve been understanding this in me for these two last years. There’s been this shift in my mind that I basically…more and more put myself mentally in the place of girls. To imagine girls—would I like this if I was there? Would I want to dress like that? Would I like to wear that jacket? If I had that jacket, what pants would I really like to wear with it to look cool? That’s how I sort of evolved with designing. That’s maybe why—even the way I see my outfits even on the [Theyskens’ Theory] catwalk, they do not look like me as a designer, like I’m showing some impressive design. It’s more like me as I imagine I would like my clothes to be if I was a cool girl. It’s very different from before, because it’s less seen from outside. It’s less that I look at the girl from outside, as a figure. It’s a mental shift, I think.
For beauty, I’ve been having a hard time saying to the makeup artist, ‘Let’s put some…’ I feel uncomfortable more and more with makeup and girls. It’s maybe just the moment right now. It’s weird, the way we choose to wear makeup around the eye, and the lips. I got rid of almost everything at the last show—it almost had nothing, just a bit of some silver shine. It was not linear makeup some place, like a drawing. I’m more attracted by the way you can color your hair, and have a little skin tone and shine, but not like a faking of design, like re-designing your eye. It’s very weird to me.
For a time, when I was in Paris, I was putting a lot of kohl on myself all the time because I liked the Afghan eye, you know? Putting it just inside the eye. It was basically protecting against infections—it’s protection in the desert, and all. It evolves, it’s not permanent sort of ink…it makes a beautiful eye, in a way. I’ve stopped since I’ve started seeing the more young pop artists, guys, wearing eyeliner. I would not really wish to have it now.
I think androgyny saved me from being a person with a complex. As a kid of the 80’s, I had always on my mind that the beautiful, good-looking guy was the prototype of the 80’s guy, who was sort of like, this huge, big, beefy guy with short hair—what I would never be. And it was weird, because in the early 90’s, all these magazines started—the coolest magazines, like The Face, i-D, all these magazines showed up and put on the qualities of androgyny. It was not just the look, it was also the people: the guys that looked more feminine, the girls that had some tough aspects. We entered that era where androgyny became more fashionable. By seventeen, I sort of felt like I was happy with the physique I had, just right in time. [Laughs] I was really happy! And the whole time I had eczema on my face, you know, bad skin on my eyes. It was tough. I mean, I was feeling like I was a little ugly man. [Laughs] So I was like, ‘I actually look cool!’
I’ve never really been a part of a group, really. I was more like ‘Olivier the drawer, the dreamer,’ [Laughs] I like that. It’s always been like that. I had always wished to have long hair, since I was a very very little child. I remember really really early memories, I would always put anything fringy—like a fringe blanket—on my head. Even at the restaurant I would put my napkin on my head and imagine it’s like hair. [Laughs] I was always like that. Always. But I had to always cut it. I finally started to grow it out when I was a teenager. It was the time of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, and at the time I was really into Nirvana and The Cure and all these guys. So the thing was always to use shaving blades, and getting it a little bit trashy. So that was my thing. I did it myself; there was not really a hairdresser in the neighborhood who liked making that. Now a lot of times Odile cuts it before the shows. When we work on the fittings for the hairdressing, after we finished that on the model, she’ll quickly just cut the ends. A lot of times I’ll attach it on top of my head like her. I think sometimes you have your little fashions.
I don’t do anything special to my hair. I try to use products that have no crazy chemicals—parabens, all these things. I’m using these basic ecological shampoos. I like for example, Australian Organics—I buy it in Paris—or these kinds of things for hair. You don’t need strange chemicals to clean…you’re not really dirty, you just need some components that get rid of oil. I really wash my skin—like, every morning, every night. I always use products with no bad chemicals. I like La Roche Posay, I think it’s good. But I don’t have one brand that I’m looking after. There’s this good brand in Paris called A-Derma. That is very good; I always have bigger bottles so I can keep it. It’s really the best, I think. I don’t think it exists here in New York. I always moisturize my skin—I think it’s good for the skin. The upper layer of the skin is dead, actually—dead cells. But it’s good to moisturize it anyway I think—I feel better. Otherwise I sort of feel tight.
My hair was darker when I was a kid, I think. But I’ve never colored it; I don’t experiment with hair color. I even like the gray hair here. The gray just started happening; I’m kind of lucky with that. I don’t know if I’ll do anything about it. Actually, what I don’t like is when the structure of the hair changes, more than the color. The hair, when they go gray, some people are lucky, they have their hair getting gray but keeping the same texture. And some others, the hair becomes like a rebel. I think mine is like that. You can see this sort of crooked curl that’s very weird. I was reading they found a molecule that is stopping the chain reactions that create the gray hair. They found a molecule to preserve the color of your hair, which is kind of interesting, but it will take a while to synthesize that. It’s always interesting, but for sure, one day. My eyebrows are natural, but I take care if I have a strange hair growing some place. [Laughs] One time, I had a very weird thing happening. I had one hair growing through the middle of my forehead! It was very thin, I think it grew in two days, like, three inches long. It was horrifying! I was like, ‘ What is this? A hair growing on my face!’ I had that one time. I still look for it after a while, if it will ever come back one day. Or maybe it was a one shot experience.
I think getting older is an experience. [Laughs] The funny thing is, that I remember being younger and thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to match it well,’ and nobody is. I’m thirty-four—and sometimes I see my hand, and I see there is an evolution. I’m witnessing that I’m getting older, and that’s okay. I think the experience is very interesting. I’m doing yoga, and I like to see that you have people who are really old doing this. Like, they do the same lessons as I do, and relatively well—guys who are sixty-five, and they still do it very well. I see their bodies, they are all firm muscles and all of that. I think I should sort of pay attention to that, and keep myself in shape. I probably eat better than when I was younger. I’m also probably healthier since I really quit smoking, three years ago.
What’s good in New York is that you can get a cool manicure. I like it, it’s very pleasant—just clean and perfect fingertips. And sometimes I want a deep tissue massage. I don’t want to say where I go, because she’s always overbooked and I don’t want anybody to try my place—but she’s a very fantastic masseuse—she’s the treasure of masseuses. I go there if I feel like I’m sort of like blocking my shoulders—like, the movement of air around me could be blocking my neck very easily. It feels like the cold enters my neck to my spine and it blocks it all out. I have to be super careful, I always have a scarf in the office because in ten minutes I’m blocked. I wish I could practice yoga every two days, but I don’t find the time. So I have that frustration to really feel on top of my abilities and to have the experience of feeling complete in practicing. A lot of the time I’m sort of like, practicing to go back to the level I’m supposed to be. So you cannot really enjoy it properly—but at the same time it’s good for you, that’s all.
With food, I pay attention to the product I buy. If I’m buying—and this is very rare—[laughs] you will find me always reading the ingredients. In fact, I read more ingredients than books. I’m always looking after anything I can read, like, ‘Okay, no sugar added, please. No syrup, please. No tricky stuff, please,’ just simple good food. I hate this global food market. It’s disgusting. I’m horrified in what I see in these poor looking-products, what is behind it. So I’m trying to find always simple—no tricky additives. I think it’s good to eat not too much meat. I don’t do that because of the concept of meat, I do it because I think it’s healthier to not exaggerate with meat. I mean, we can think we’re powerful, but when we were prehistoric, we were not great hunters. We were better eating all the veggie stuff around us, and a little bit of meat and fish. It’s true of our species.”