Designers Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia move forward with a sentimental nod to the past.
How Oscar de la Renta’s creative directors are honouring the late designer’s legacy.
In 2014, Sarah Jessica Parker wore a ball gown to the Met Gala that had Oscar de la Renta’s signature elegantly scrolled across its train. The designer reportedly wasn’t keen on the idea, but his long-time client had requested it, so he graciously relented. For Spring 2018, co-creative directors Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia emblazoned de la Renta’s signature throughout the collection. What would the designer, who passed away in October 2014, make of this? “Oscar wouldn’t have done it himself,” admits Kim with a sly smile. “He didn’t want to be that guy putting his name on everything, but I think he would have liked the fact that we did it for him— that we’re not forgetting him.”
Since assuming the mantle of co-creative directors for the house in September 2016, these young designers have creatively paid homage to de la Renta’s legacy while still imparting their own modern imprint. In their sophomore collection, they confidently managed to pay their respects to the designer while introducing a cleanlined aesthetic and relaxed glamour. This is especially evident in the oversized white shirts, faded or frayed denim looks and neon-coloured suits with culotte pants.
Although Parker’s “autographed” dress partly inspired the duo, Garcia says that this collection—with its paint-splattered and brush-stroke patterns—is a tribute to de la Renta’s love of art. “We also wanted to celebrate the new logo, which is Oscar’s real signature,” he adds. Other pieces feature reproductions of handwritten notes to de la Renta from friends of the house. The designers’ own affection for de la Renta is evident when they recall how they first met him. In both cases, it was their sketches that attracted his attention. “I was interning, and Oscar’s son, Moises, wanted to start his own line when he was 18 and asked if I could help him,” recalls Kim, who started as an intern in 2003 while studying fashion design at New York’s Pratt Institute. “So I did a collection of sketches, and he showed them to his father. Oscar said: ‘Moises, you didn’t do these. Who did them for you?’ That’s how I got to meet Oscar.” In Garcia’s case, he relied on a family connection. “My father had a friend who knew Oscar,” he recalls. “I studied architecture, but I always wanted to see what fashion was like, so I would sketch in the back of all my notebooks. When I »
graduated from Notre Dame, I asked my father, ‘Do you want to use that favour card to see what Oscar thinks about my sketches?’ He agreed, and the rest is history. That’s how I met him.”
De la Renta brought Garcia on as an intern in 2009, and that’s when he and Kim first met. She was the house’s design director at the time and first spoke with Garcia on the phone. He told her he had graduated from Notre Dame, and Kim says she thought he was referring to the cathedral in Paris. Despite that early misunderstanding, the pair creatively connected and worked together for six years before leaving to launch their own line, Monse, in 2015. (Their decision to go solo followed the announcement that Peter Copping would be taking over the reins of the company. He resigned 21 months later.)
The duo’s creative partnership is based on trust, and their connection is evident in the way they finish each other’s sentences. “We do have differences of opinion,” says Garcia, “but we either push [the design] to the point where we are both happy and it’s better than what either of us could have done on our own or it dies out because we can’t resolve it. Whatever we show has been 99.9 per cent amicably resolved.”
Both Kim and Garcia admit that it can be challenging to find the time to be creative while managing their business and staff, but they appear to be handling their immense responsibilities with a seasoned mastery. Perhaps that confidence comes from knowing their path from a young age. In Kim’s case, she says it was in her DNA to be in fashion. She was born in Seoul but moved to Calgary when she was nine. She describes her parents as artists, adding that her grandparents were in the textile business. “I finished high school one year early because I wanted to get out and study fashion in either London or New York,” she recalls. “When my mom married my dad, he promised her that they would study together in New York—but he didn’t live up to that. My mom told him that he owed her to make this happen for their kids. So I didn’t have a choice! I was going to New York.”
Garcia’s interest in fashion was entwined with his love of film. “Starting when I was eight, my mom and I would watch red-carpet events; I saw beautiful works of art by Galliano, Ghesquière and Tom Ford. That’s when I got the fashion bug—but I didn’t have the courage to pursue it right after high school, so I waited until I finished architecture to think about it.”
If Garcia could speak with de la Renta today, he says he would want to know if the designer felt they had pushed the house forward. “He would always tell us to never look back,” recalls Garcia. “That’s something we keep in the back of our minds so that everything we do doesn’t look like how he did it, because he would want us to evolve.”