To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode de Calais gave carte blanche to Belgian designer Olivier Theyskens, with the exhibition “Olivier Theyskens, In praesentia” until 5 January 2020. An opportunity to start a conversation between past and present, and pay homage to this exceptional know-how, which has earned its rightful place in contemporary design.
How did you envision the In praesentia exhibit?
My career in fashion was the subject of a retrospective at the MoMu in Antwerp in 2017. For this new event, I chose a less chronological and more intuitive approach, organised by themes. I have used lace since the start, incorporating antique motifs in one of a kind pieces. I dove into it again when I revisited the iconic Rochas laces from the 1940s. As I was diving into the archives, I discovered that many of the early models resonated with my own creative designs, particularly in their technical approach. So I decided to focus on this conversation between time periods, working very closely with Lydia Kamitsis, the exhibition’s curator.
© Claessens & Deschamps
So you’re inviting the visitor into a kind of matching game?
Yes, and this one underlines a fact that is often forgotten, which is that there are certain constants in fashion. Any designer who uses fabrics reproduces what others have done in the past. And that’s not very surprising because he is faced with the same problems – using bias, cuts, colours… This isn’t a trivial observation, because it’s a sign of belonging to a profession. As evidence of this, we highlighted the links between a variety of often-anonymous pieces and garments. A woman’s wardrobe from the 1870s and dresses from the 1930s; a Victorian-looking coat and a design from the 2000s.
What were you feeling when you explored the museum’s archives?
I was deeply moved by the work that went into the dressmaking. A dress is a dress, whatever its era, and it is always interesting to see how a particular one is cut and made. Those choices reflect the imagination of the designers and dressmakers who made them. There is something very human about it, a somewhat mysterious story that continues to nourish the creative process today.
How do you see the future of this artisanal know-how?
One of the charms, and one of the drawbacks, of lace-making is its very demanding technical requirements. As a result, the lace industry can’t come up with new products at the same pace as other textile industries. However, it has taken major steps to optimize its performance in order to play a real role in contemporary creation, mainly through two approaches. The first is in the sports sector, where tulle is being used in the manufacturing of a wide range of technical clothing. The second is the world of luxury, but this requires modernizing production with new research, especially into natural and recycled fibres. The lace universe needs to move closer to the designer universe, to refresh its aesthetic approach, but there are infinite possibilities in this area.
What role can lace play in contemporary creations?
I spent a lot of time in the archives and discovered an incredible diversity. The 20s and 30s were hugely interested in lace, with a creative exploration that paved the way to the emergence of fresh graphic and abstract motifs, and the emergence of new blends, patterns, colours and fibres. It’s this kind of creative effervescence that needs to be reinvented.
To learn more about the secrets of La Dentelle de Calais-Caudry® at the show, stop by the exhibition “The Lace Review” at the entrance of Maison d’Exceptions (Hall 6, new location).
Also be sure to visit the French houses manufacturing Leavers lace, in Hall 5: Beauvillain Davoine, Darquer, Dentelles André Laude, Dentelles Méry, Desseilles, Jean Bracq, Noyon Dentelles, Riechers Marescot, Solstiss and Sophie Hallette.