In the vaulted main chamber of New York City’s 1920’s-era Cunard Building last September, Oscar de la Renta’s chief design duo of Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia sent out a Spring/Summer 2020 collection that thrummed with warm color and a subtle, freeing rhythm (think billowing and beaded caftans and bias-cut mini-dresses). Raffia trims audibly swished as models glided down the long hall. A spritz of sharp citrus fragrance filtered through the still air.
From the atelier to the runway, join Oscar de la Renta’s Chief Designers Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia in the making of their incredible Spring 2020 runway collection. Video credit: Neko Studio
Kim and Garcia — hired as heads-of-house not long after de la Renta’s passing in 2014, and a brief lead installment of the designer Peter Copping (an arrangement that lasted just shy of two years) — were paying homage to their label’s namesake’s homeland of the Dominican Republic and its capital city of Santo Domingo. The idea clicked; a nearly century old building in Manhattan’s clinically uninteresting Financial District felt, for about fifteen minutes, tropical and lush. The room was rife with the sort of fanciful and pretty Oscar-isms that well-heeled women have long counted on and adored. There were uptown day dresses, luxurious fabrications and eveningwear options aplenty, all rendered, this time, with a versatile and lightly-Caribbean charisma. And with that, the lineup seemed destined to be popular in Miami, a location whose style Garcia describes as “easy, [packed with] bright colors, and feminine.”
While Canadian Kim and Dominican Republic-born Garcia’s rise at Oscar de la Renta was logical to those inside the house, it still came as a bit of a surprise to industry-watchers.
The two had, for many years, worked under the late designer (Garcia started as an intern). Kim was de la Renta’s head designer at the time of his death. In 2015, the pair founded their own label, named Monse, which garnered quick commercial and celebrity acclaim (Nicki Minaj even drops the moniker on her verse in A$AP Ferg’s hit song, “Plain Jane”). Monse is still around — these designers are busy — though it retains a decidedly more directional, if not experimental, approach.
After Copping’s much-discussed appointment (and then his much-discussed exit), Kim and Garcia were brought back into the de la Renta fold, and have been both honoring the existing, formal-meets-fabulous codes of the house while, simultaneously, modernizing them. Last year, they supervised the opening of the first Oscar de la Renta boutique in Paris. Miami is a key market, as well; it is established—the Oscar de la Renta boutique opened in Bal Harbour Shops just over fifteen years ago, with the man himself in attendance—yet there is room to grow. Indeed, “Miami is such an important city for this brand. Oscar always loved light, color and luminosity, and we feel that these adjectives perfectly describe the city,” said Garcia.
Combined, their clothing designs have become more youth-glancing (see those aforementioned minis). And their roster is widening to include more separates, more product categories, and more accessories. As for the lattermost for Spring, a black woven-straw floral clasp bag and beaded tassel earrings in shell blue have an enthusiastic, invigorated appeal; they’re perfect entrees into the Oscar universe.
“It really varies, day-to-day,” said Kim, when asked about the balance between tradition and evolution. “We’re constantly adjusting and moving the collections forward, but we find it important to look at past Oscar shows from time to time. At the end of the day, we want to stay true to the brand’s DNA. But the designs also must be fresh and relevant.”
“Our clientele is growing and changing,” adds Garcia. “We always stay true to her needs,” (needs that are predominantly fulfilled by event, red carpet and evening gowns), “but we want to introduce a sense of versatility. Like evening separates, suiting, even denim. This makes the brand feel more approachable for today’s woman.” To wit, recent red carpet outings on a diverse group of women have included Glenn Close, Zoe Kravitz, Emily Ratajkowski, Beanie Felstein, and Daisy Ridley.
The pair are well-equipped for such broadening. Monse’s immediate popularity was due, in part, to their shared ability in working with tailoring and shirting and making it feel renewed and energized. Case in point: they can do sophistication, but the stodginess that sometimes comes intertwined with the term is knifed out. Plus, having worked closely with de la Renta for as many years as they did, their combined skill set is unique; it is just one of the habits ingrained by their great mentor, and one of instinctive reactions to those practices. Some things need to change — and some things never will. That’s the beauty of working at a legacy label like Oscar.
“Oscar would sit in the room with the entire design team, and we would collaborate as a group,” said Kim.
“It was the most efficient way of working. No emails, no charts. Just brainstorming and sketching and discussing how we all wanted the collection to take shape,” adds Garcia.
“And that is something we channel, day-to-day. But it’s also important for us to take risks,” concludes Kim. “We have had some collections that have not been as successful as others, but without taking risks, we would not be able to move it forward.”