Collection, Exhibition

Nina Ricci through the eyes of Olivier Theyskens. History, dance and a romantic view on femininity.

Photo by Stany Dederen

Nina Ricci by Oliver Theyskens, Summer 2009. Photo by Stany Dederen

The MoMu collection has more than doubled since its opening in 2002 due to donations or long term loans. Within the wide variety of new acquisitions, a returning theme caught the attention: the references to haute couture in the ready-to-wear collections. The MoMu Gallery provides a unique insight in the ready-to-wear silhouettes with a reference to haute couture made by Belgian designers including Olivier Theyskens who has made quite the impact on the fashion industry.

Olivier Theyskens’s tenure at Nina Ricci may have been short, he only had the chance to create five main collections, but it left no one in the fashion world untouched. After making the iconic fashion house of Marcel Rochas interesting again, he did the same for Nina Ricci. He reinterprets the tailored suits and romantic dresses of Nina Ricci, two types of silhouettes at which he excelled both at his own label and at Rochas, and transports them into the 21st-century. He does this without losing the essence of Nina Ricci’s personal style of being a highly romanticised form of femininity and takes this to the extreme, where his Nina Ricci women become fantastical creatures drenched in melancholy.

Nina Ricci and Olivier Theyskens share a mutual love for dance. Ricci expressed this in her designs by making her dresses extra light for women to be able to dance in them. But Theyskens goes one step further by already incorporating the movement in his designs. In his early Nina Ricci collections, this results in a certain asymmetry by transporting the spiralling lines of the iconic bottle of Ricci’s famous perfume, l’Air du Temps, on to the clothes. In his later collections, especially in the spring 2009 collection, he uses movement to contemplate on transiency by showing us an idea of a dress.

The dresses are thought of as short, but they all have a long train in the back because they each evolve their own shape. Theyskens slows time, and by doing so, he is able to show us movement in space. In his creations for Nina Ricci, Theyskens explores the fashion of the 1930s and early 1940s with its long and slender silhouette accompanied by slightly pronounced shoulders. This was a period in which Ricci was very active, and it feels only natural for Theyskens to explore this part of the house’s heritage. In his spring 2009 collection, he even goes further back in time. He revisits the historical inspiration for the 1930s and early 1940s fashion, being the fashion of the last decade of the 19th-century, with its slim skirts that fall wide open on the floor, and its gigantic leg-of-mutton sleeves.

It is only suitable for an exhibition on demi-couture to exhibit creations by Olivier Theyskens. His impeccable craftsmanship and eye for detail give his creations an aura and quality of haute couture. The fashion press labelled him a precursor of demi-couture in 2003, when he showed his first collection for the house of Rochas, but he has always been using techniques from haute couture in his creations, starting from his very first collection, the one for the spring 1998 season. His creations are only being denied the label of haute couture because he doesn’t want to be limited by a set of rules, which for him, mean stripping away of the magic and creativity of the art form.

Words by Frederik Vercammen who was an intern at the MoMu Collection Department from February until April 2014, and wrote his master’s thesis on the collected works of Olivier Theyskens during his studies of Art History at the Ghent University.