In the September 2001 edition of US Elle, Olivier Theyskens said, “There are not a lot of people taking risks. I want to make clothes, not trends.” In the photo that accompanied the article, his hair was really, really short. “I always kind of grow it out, cut it, grow it out, cut it,” he told me during a studio visit on Tuesday. That day, his infamous sheet of jet-black hair fell just below his ears in a sort of Kurt Cobain, surfer style, and after picking my jaw up from off the floor, I told him he was a dead-ringer for a boy I might have had a crush on in my sixth-grade yearbook. That was 1995, so you know the look: Stussy t-shirt, skateboard, center part. And little did the trend-averse designer know that his drastic quick-change is, in fact, the latest in a slew of high-profile chops (Daria Werbowy—who I fully copied—Miley Cyrus, Yasmin LeBon).
He looks like a completely different person, but that’s not the point, he says. Was there some big event in your life—did you break up? Get married? Have an existential crisis? I asked, because isn’t that what precipitates the desire, the need to just cut it all off? “That’s the thing,” he said. “There’s no real reason, but people always want to think there’s something more to it. I’ve been wanting to cut it for years, but it’s never been the right time—when I left Ricci and took a year off, I wanted to cut it, but then people would think, ‘Oh no, did he freak out?!’ [Laughs] And then when I took the job at Theory and moved to New York, people would have associated it with that change. So I just waited.” Now firmly planted in NYC and gearing up for his spring 2013 show next week (“There’s not a lot I can do right now but wait for all the samples to come in”) he and a friend—not a pro, just a pal—got together for an at-home, DIY make-under…which, you know, has a special place in my heart. “Odile [Gilbert] usually cuts it, but she’s very quick, very precise, very graphic lines. And for this, it’s better when it’s kind of wrong, you know?” Oh, do I ever. I’m left with a hugely gratifying Daria-esque style on some days, and a Donald Trump, Flock of Seagulls throwback moment on others. Shorter hair is actually harder. “I know, right? I used to just wake up and go out; now I have to wet my hair, shower, every morning before I leave the house or else it looks weird,” Olivier commiserated.
Weird-looking or not, skater/grunge/teen-angst or whatever association you want to make, Olivier himself doesn’t feel any different. “I mean, it felt strange to wash it at first and not have it there anymore… but other than that, no. I just feel like me.” He’s dressing exactly the same—a rumpled t-shirt of his own design, on most days—but he’ll admit to a shift in people’s reactions towards him. “I think with the long hair, people took me more seriously…it was more of an intense look, I guess. It’s a bit more ‘normal’ now, though I still think not so many guys have hair this length.” I say, give it six months—we’ll see about that.
Olivier Theyskens photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on August 28th, 2012 (1, 2); in September 2001 Elle by Gilles Bensimon, and on ITG on 12.21.11 (3)