In the early days of luxury department stores, brand labels — the physical tags that identify who created, manufactured and earned a profit from the garment — were nonexistent. Instead, it was the retailer itself that ticketed the clothes: "Balmain" jackets were labeled "Lord & Taylor"; "Chanel" skirts said "Neiman Marcus"; and for a time, Oscar de la Renta dresses read "Saks Fifth Avenue." But that didn't last long in the case of the latter: Oscar de la Renta, the man, was the first designer carried at Saks to have had his tag display his own name.
And so began a hardy relationship that has persisted into 2017, with the latest iteration of Oscar de la Renta now underway. Just nine days after Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia's debut runway show, the co-creative directors spent the morning playing host at Saks in their first public appearance on the job, where I met up with them for a post-NYFW catch-up; that afternoon, Garcia was booked on a flight to Los Angeles where he would oversee the final fittings for Brie Larson's Oscars looks.
Kim and Garcia's debut — shown back-to-back with their own label Monse during New York Fashion Week — more than met the industry's expectations. As Tyler discussed in her review, the duo didn't exactly reinvent the wheel, but that was certainly to their benefit: The collection felt as sparkly and fresh as it did familiar and polished, garnering newfound attention from a younger shopper while still appealing to its more patrician ladies-who-lunch.
"I think we're broadening the customer base, but it was a customer Oscar always had," says Kim, who began working at Oscar de la Renta in 2003, while still in college. "Before we left the company, we always saw the younger customer there, too." Garcia specifies, saying that this collection was all about touching on what he refers to as "Oscarisms," polishing them and "giving them a little bit of a new life, so that we don't alienate the very healthy customer base Oscar currently has."
Which meant, in a sense, playing it safe. What Garcia called "Oscarisms" we more generally call "house codes" — those design elements that act as key reference points for each collection. Whatever the terminology, the pair ensured de la Renta's were well-represented. "Oscar loved simple shapes, beautiful colors and rich fabrics," says Garcia. "We started that as our drawing board."
Garcia also mentions a trip to two of de la Renta's favorite places — St. Petersburg and Moscow — that company CEO Alex Bolen took them on in October. "We saw a lot of these armors," says Garcia, "and they were rich in color and simple in shape, so we also drew upon that for inspiration." Bolen was quick to retort: "On the other hand, I think Oscar would tell you he was never inspired by armor, so I think that those guys are able to find a connection there is interesting."
There is no doubt, at this point, that the two are inspired designers — why else would such an explosive lawsuit erupt over Kim specifically? — and Bolen has given them an immense amount of creative liberty. "It was an opportunity we just could not pass on," says Garcia. "It was too exciting for us to have Alex trust us to do both lines in the first place, yet let alone, show [them] at the same time — to show and prove to everyone there's possible room to do both and have them completely individual while have some similarities like the color choices. They're very bold and aggressive, as Oscar taught us, with both lines."
As I left our conversation to head back to the office, Kim and Garcia were set to make face with a number of Saks's top customers; in fact, the garments from the duo's latest collection will ship to Saks shoppers before any other retailer. "They've been big supporters for us, even at Monse," says Kim, with Garcia replying: "Loyalty goes along way in this town."