FA2L is for anyone who cares about beautiful things–clothing, shoes, accessories, home furnishings–and the interconnected tribes of those who make, sell, market and desire them. If something speaks to you, buy it now or hold your peace: there are links in each story, so the item you want is just a click away. I'd like to hear from you, too: please view my profile, use the email button and send me your comments.MG

Sunday, July 12, 2009

In the Nina Ricci Big Top, Theyskens Takes a Fall

Producing cutting-edge fashion, even in the best of times, is a harrowing high-wire act. Business teams at the world's great luxury houses are expert jugglers, balancing production costs, overhead expenditures and advertising fees against revenue from clothing and accessories; makeup and perfume; and a stream of potential licenses. Meanwhile, designers must have talent enough to create exciting collections, plus the instinct to gauge how great a leap adherents will take each season. Talk about a circus! It's gaudy, backbreaking and glamorous by turns, with elephant pyramids, lion tamers, feathered ponies and spangled showgirls galore. High above the center ring is the house designer, who steps out on a wire season after season, show after show––and sometimes falls right off the tightrope.

That's what happened to Olivier Theyskens at Nina Ricci in March. Theyskens is a Belgian designer who's been hailed as a fashion genius, for his own collections (of which Madonna was an early champion: in 1998, she wore his clothes to the Oscars and VH1's Fashion Awards) and for his work at Rochas and Nina Ricci. FA2L remembers discovering some of Theyskens' first pieces in Paris and marveling that gowns and jackets so shockingly new could have as much presence and audacity as vintage couture. Unfortunately, audacity can be a problem: it whips fashionistas into a frenzy, but the house doesn't make money selling only front row seats. Rumors circulated for months that Theyskens and Nina Ricci would part ways (the brass at parent company Puig apparently sat him down after the Spring '09 show for a "talking to") and the extraordinary Fall '09 collection, unveiled on March 5, left no doubt. It was a thrilling parade of razor-sharp tailoring, glittering modern materials and death-defying platform shoes, but Puig's bean counters decided these dark goddesses were striding too far ahead of the curve. By March 10, Theyskens was out.

Obviously, many of the clothes Theyskens sent down the runway in that last show never went into production. In June, Puig held a fire sale of old stock and current samples--in other words, anything that might suggest Oliver Theyskens had ever worked there. The irony is almost too much to bear--in just a few seasons, Theyskens single-handedly put Nina Ricci back on the fashion map (from which it had been missing for decades). Meanwhile, a few pieces--including the skinny grey jacket and pants in the photo above--are arriving in stores. Check them out for yourself and, if they fit your body, your life and your budget, buy them. Then step out on your own daily tightrope in style.