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Edited by on May 2 2011 at 4:27 PM

Olivier Theyskens is one of the most singular designers in fashion today. His clothes are brooding, dramatic, poetic and above all beautiful, much like the designer himself. Shortly after dropping out of Belgium’s La Cambre Art Academy, one of his gowns ended up on Madonna‘s mannish back at the 1998 Oscars, thus propelling him to stardom. Documenting Theyskens road from precocious art star to his four seasons at Rochas and finally his brilliant but short-lived tenure at Nina Ricci was photographer Julien Claessens, whose haunting photos add another dimension to Theyskens sartorial creations and form the backbone for The Other Side of the Picture (Assouline, 2010).

Bookclubbin: The Other Side of the Picture by Olivier Theyskens

In the book’s introduction, Sally Singer, editor of T Magazine, is quick to point out that this is not your typical behind the curtains tome. That’s owed primarily to the fact that Julien Claessens is not a fashion photographer. In fact he admits that he doesn’t really understand fashion, but he understands his friend Olivier’s work.

So it’s no surprise that his photos aren’t perfectly-posed, editorial-ready snapshots, but abstract portraits that offer a glimpse into a world of extremes: extreme beauty, extreme bodies and an almost otherworldly charm. The star of these portraits, however, are still Theyskens minutely-crafted work.

Like malleable sculptures, Theyskens clothes wrap and drape themselves over the skeletal  frames of Lily Donaldson, Hilary Rhoda, Gemma Ward, Olga Sherer, Lara Stone, Tanya Dziahileva, Catherine McNeil and Sasha Pivovarova, lending a strength, elegance and sophistication otherwise at odds with their prepubescent fragility.

The Other Side of the Picture chronicles Theyskens career chronologically, ending before he began his newest phase at Theory, but Nina Ricci’s Fall/Winter ’09 collection is a fitting denouement, both for the book and for Theyskens time at the brand. That particular collection is the peak of Theyskens craft and a comforting reminder that talent like his shall and will not be wasted. Also, I’m still not over these tranny heels:

Bookclubbin: The Other Side of the Picture by Olivier Theyskens

Julien Claessens, without understanding fashion, is able to completely grasp the work of Olivier Theyskens. As Claessens says about his friend’s work, “There’s something here that is part of my universe.” His clothes speak, live and breathe through Claessens’ photos because Theyskens intended them to speak, live and breathe on the women he dresses. Claessens and Theyskens simply speak the same language.

What owning this book says about you: You’re a serious-minded fashionista who admires Olivier’s dark aesthetic and/or his dark hotness.

What your dinner guests will say upon seeing this book on your coffee table: “Oh, wow, someone’s pretentious. And fabulous.”

How this book will make your fashion brain grow: Though you’re not likely to gain much in the way of knowledge from The Other Side of the Picture, you’re heart will swell at its beauty.

If you like this, you’ll love: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. The book to the Met exhibit is on sale — having had a quick look at it this morning we can definitely say it is worth the 30 bucks (plus free shipping, y’all!)

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Story by Lester Brathwaite

I was center square from 1969 to 1978, during which I perfected the art of the zing as well as a crippling cocaine addiction. Bea Arthur was responsible for both. @LesFabian lester at