NEW YORK — If there's one thing Oscar de la Renta wants to make perfectly clear, it's this: His company isn't for sale.
Squelching rumors he's seeking new investors, de la Renta, 75, and Alexander Bolen, 40, the fashion house's chief executive officer, are busy making plans for the future that involve an international rollout of retail stores; the continued growth of eveningwear; a greater emphasis on daywear, accessories and home furnishings, and a bigger push into fragrances.
In an interview at the designer's opulent Park Avenue apartment, the two men sat down to discuss the state of de la Renta's $100 million wholesale business and their desire to be considered on par with world-famous European houses, the difficulties with licensed partners and where they see the company headed over the next several years. The word "retirement" never seems to enter de la Renta's vocabulary.
Here's what they had to say.
WWD: There's been a rumor in the market that your company is for sale. Could you address that issue?
Oscar de la Renta: Let's make it very clear that certainly our company is not for sale. I mean, five years ago, before Alex came into the mix, if somebody were to come up and say, "We'd like to buy the company, we'd like to buy the name," probably I would say, "Gee, I'm not going to live forever, perhaps this is something I envision doing," but now I look at it in a different way.
Alexander Bolen: The company is absolutely not for sale. At this point, over my dead body. I have talked with Oscar about it and if Oscar tells me he wants to do something, which he has not, obviously I'll pursue his instructions, but our best days are ahead of us. You know, we've been fortunate to date that we've been able to execute our plans with the capital budget that we have. We don't have a big balance sheet, but we have a clean balance sheet and we have enough money to do the things that we want to do. If we were to get to the point that we didn't have the money to do the things we want to do, we might consider bringing on a partner. But I want to emphasize that we have no discussions of any sort going on at this point.WWD: We have been told that you've spoken to people. Is that true?
A.B.: What I would say is that I'm a former banker and people know that, and I get calls. In general, I think it's good to meet people, but nobody has made a bid, we have not gone to anyone with an offer, there are no specific discussions of any sort.
WWD: Are you fishing around?
A.B.: Having said that, yes, in general, if somebody came along and said here is $10 billion, guess what, my first thing is that I'm going to run to Oscar's office and say, "Let's hand them the keys." I have not solicited anyone for anything and, quite frankly, nobody has had a specific discussion with me. Now I do get calls and I do take meetings, but none of those are anything active, none of those are anything specific.
WWD: Is there an eventual goal of selling the company?
A.B.: I would say again, no. Back to my banking background — you sell for a lot of specific reasons. You sell when you are out of money or when you're out of ideas, and we are certainly not out of ideas and at this point, we are not out of money. So, again, I see tremendous opportunity. When we are out of ideas, then maybe we start to think about it. The actions that we are taking, the strategies that we are executing are to build the business generally, not to position it for a sale in a couple of years.
WWD: Oscar, has the "R" word — retirement from design — ever crossed your mind?
O.D.L.R.: When he fires me, I will.
WWD: Assuming he will not do that (Bolen is de la Renta's son-in-law), have you ever thought of that?
O.D.L.R.: Why would I do that? I love my work. I love what I do. The best time for me is when I'm in my studio working with my assistants. I have a fantastic team of assistants that I'm really proud of and I get along with well, and I love what I do.WWD: Have you ever thought of possibly grooming one, should you choose to retire?
O.D.L.R.: Not really, no. No, I have too much of an ego to think in those terms.
A.B.: You know, this is a question that when Oscar's not around I'm frequently asked. In particular by some of the people who request a meeting. And what I tell them, I'll tell you: We have no plan and I don't intend to have a plan. What I intend to do is a hugely important part of my job, and I'll consider myself an abject failure if I don't deliver on it, is to keep Oscar very excited and interested in coming to the office. I think he's the best, and I think that the best thing I can do for our business is keep him doing it. You bring up what I think, as a business person, is a real critical issue for the industry: Who knows how to make the clothes? Design is one thing, sketches and fabric and all of that, but Oscar's business is about the making of the clothes. Oscar is deeply involved in all aspects of the making of the clothes.
O.D.L.R.: One of my assistants, who is a wonderful girl, worked for quite a long time at another couture house. The designer used to make really unbelievable clothes. And it's not that he's not making beautiful clothes now, but I think that their emphasis is not really on selling the clothes, but on selling the accessories and selling the brand. When she saw me working, she said, "Oh my goodness, you work very differently," because, you know, every single dress I fit, I work on it. She said [the other designer] never touched the clothes, and I said that's not the designer I knew.
WWD: How large a business is Oscar de la Renta today in retail sales?
A.B.: I'm not going to talk about retail sales because it's difficult to know. The markup structure is different in the U.S. than it is in Europe. Here's what I would tell you: For the first time this year, looking at our bookings and where we are, our business will be substantially more toward $100 million. When you equate that into retail dollars, I believe the math gets you easily to a number of $250 million and north of that.WWD: How is your business doing in light of the difficult economy?
A.B.: To give you some more specific data, our plan — which was put together in August or September of last year, so after some of the trouble had started but really not before all of the news hit yet — our plan called for our company's top line to be up 30 percent this year. You can imagine in January, I was a little nervous about that. So far, so good, knock on wood. We are absolutely on plan and there are fairly substantial pluses and minuses to the plan. What I would say is that markets like New York are extremely strong, which is a surprise.
WWD: Are there a lot of Europeans coming over to buy the collection?
A.B.: Well, I think that there's some of that. Traditionally, our store [here] on Madison Avenue is empty on the weekends, but our Saturday business has picked up a lot, and I believe it's tourists and Europeans in particular.
WWD: Your Madison Avenue store is generally empty on the weekends?
A.B.: Yes, it's really a weekday business because our business on Madison Avenue — and the same is true, although in a less extreme case, in our other stores — it's all locals. We did an analysis, and this is before the phenomenon that I just described about some tourists and Europeans, but 80 percent of our business is done with people who live within five blocks of the store. It's probably much less than that today, but it's still probably directionally correct. Our stores are very much first and foremost targeted at locals and not tourists.
WWD: How does the business break down between eveningwear and daywear?
O.D.L.R.: You know how our business has changed a lot is that people think of me as an eveningwear designer, but in fact we sell far many more daywear [looks] than we sell eveningwear. Daywear is a multiple sale. With eveningwear, a woman doesn't buy 10 dresses per season.A.B.: Our business has been on plan, although we've gotten there to date in a different way than we expected. Overall, our domestic business had been a little softer than we expected, but that has been more than offset by being more successful internationally.
WWD: Where are your stores in the U.S.?
A.B.: We have Madison Avenue; Miami; Manhasset [N.Y.]; Dallas; Las Vegas; Los Angeles. We have Orange County [Calif.] and then we have an outlet store up at Woodbury Commons [in Central Valley, N.Y.]. We are on plan, but New York is well ahead of plan, surprisingly so. Las Vegas has been really tough.
WWD: Why do you think Las Vegas has been difficult?
A.B.: I think it really comes down to, quite simply, bookings and hotels.
WWD: In what cities in the U.S. are you interested in opening stores?
A.B.: I would say there are a couple of markets in the U.S. that people point to as markets where we ought to have stores: Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and Boston. In those locations we have great wholesale partners, and I think that, when we think about where we're going to park capital dollars for stores, we've got to feel like we're increasing the business for everyone, and we're not just going to have a shift from one way to the other. We have agreements to go into Atlanta and Scottsdale [Ariz.]. They are development projects and they have a lot of developing to do, so those are a few years out.
WWD: Where do you see the focus of your growth right now?
A.B.: The focus of retail for us is really international. The business is very small, despite the fact that Oscar is very well known internationally. We embarked upon a strategy to increase our wholesale distribution and points of sale. We are now in between 70 and 75 doors around the world, and that literally is up from one door five years ago.WWD: What's the range of stores you sell, internationally?
A.B.: I think we're around globe. Where we are dramatically underpenetrated relative to other brands is the Far East. Our Far East distribution is minimal at this point.
O.D.L.R.: Underpenetrated in comparison to European brands, but not underpenetrated in comparison to American brands.
A.B.: [Our wholesale business] ranges to places like Harrods, which one might expect, to Dover Street Market in London. We have [distribution] in Paris, we are in Boutique 1 in Dubai. We are really thrilled with the reception that the wholesale customers have given to our line, and I would attribute it to two things: Oscar has spent a lot of time focused on merchandising the line differently than it was five years ago. For the European specialty stores, daywear and, in particular, sportswear are an important part of their business.
We also have a great evening program, but we bolstered that with a lot of great sweaters and blouses and all the things you have seen on the runway. You know I would be kidding if I didn't say the currency situation has also been a tremendous boom to what we've done. We are trying to build the business slowly, steadily and we're pleased. Seventy-five points of sale in a few years is a rapid expansion.
WWD: Are you doing business in China?
A.B.: We're in Shanghai. I hear people talk about Brazil, India, Russia and China as these big developing economies. When we look at those opportunities for us, China, for reasons similar to why we're proceeding cautiously with Japan, probably represents the farthest-off opportunity.
The market we are most interested in is India right now. We think that India, especially for the sorts of things that Oscar designs, represents a real opportunity. There are issues in India — there is no real organized luxury shopping at this point. In Delhi, there is the first kind of true Western shopping center that is opening, a place called Emporio. We're not prepared to talk about it yet, but we have a world-class partner that wants to be our partner in India.WWD: Do you feel the demand is there for Oscar de la Renta's product?
A.B.: In addition to the fact that there is a lack of luxury shopping, although that's changing, there's also massive import duties in India. Louis Vuitton has the most successful luxury store in Mumbai. They do a big business. I was told $15 million in a store in a hotel. It's not particularly a big store — having said that, if something costs $1,000 in the United States, it costs $1,600 there. There's a 60 percent all-in duty.
There are definitely issues in India, there's a customer there who is extremely fashion conscious. Her level of affluence is rising rapidly, and to our partner's credit, the reason they came to us is if a Western brand is going to be able take a foothold here...Oscar's sort of influenced by a lot of Indian aesthetics and we think this is a great way to start, which I thought was particularly intelligent. We are in discussions with a major player that would cover the entire Gulf region.
WWD: Is this a shift in perspective? You said a while back that Asia and the Middle East were fast growing, and there are some tried-and-true markets that you have to address first. And you use London as an example, so is this a shift away from the tried-and-true cities?
A.B.: No, what I'm trying to say is that we've made good progress with the tried and true. And I'm about to tell you about some stores that we are going to open in tried and true. Although London is not one of them. We haven't had a freestanding store in London and it is a high priority. We are under construction now in Madrid, Athens and in Moscow, and we will open — barring any unforeseen delays — Madrid and Athens later this summer, and we'll have major launch events with Oscar and Eliza [Reed Bolen, de la Renta's step-daughter and the company's vice president of licensing] in October for those two. Moscow, which will open later this year, is more complicated.
WWD: What brought you to Moscow?A.B.: Aizel Trudel, our partner, called me about three years ago and she said, "I love the brand. Moscow is happening, and you have to open a store here."
O.D.L.R.: She's doing unbelievably well. She has her own multibranded store and is opening an Oscar de la Renta store. The store is beautiful. It's in an 18th-century house.
A.B.: It's about 4,000 square feet. In addition to what we feature in our stores in the U.S., we'll also have the furniture line, the bridal line and the furs....We are immediately adjacent to Vuitton, and around the corner is Chanel, Marc Jacobs. Dior is there.
WWD: Tell us about the Athens store.
A.B.: Prior to my arrival, Oscar has been doing business with Haris Tsimogiannis in Athens, who has a store called Image which has two locations, one in central Athens downtown, and the other in Kifissia, which is a residential area. And he came to us about a year ago and said, "Look, my business with you guys is so strong, I would like to propose that we change the Kifissia location into an Oscar de la Renta store." So we've been out there a few times, and this is going to be our Athens location. So that should open by the end of the summer.
WWD: Do you have a store in Paris?
O.D.L.R.: We have been proposed spaces in Paris, in the Palais Royale, where Marc Jacobs is opening, where I think Ralph Lauren is opening a second store. I know a lot of people in Paris and to every single friend that I have in Paris, I would ask if they shop in the Palais Royale, and they all say no.
WWD: Do they prefer a more traditional venue, like Avenue Montaigne?
O.D.L.R.: Obviously where we would love to be is probably Avenue Montaigne because I see that our customers do shop in Avenue Montaigne. We went to look at one space there — from the outside it looked great, but the inside was a nightmare.A.B.: Avenue Montaigne, as a price matter, is not justified by the level of business that's done. For brands that are rich enough to be able to afford a three-dimensional billboard, that's one thing, but for us, I think we have to think alternatively. I think there are some Left Bank locations that we've looked at that have some interest. I think that, for us, we're a destination, we're about a local customer. We have to come up with something to Oscar's point where the people who are our most loyal supporters are comfortable coming, but also we could have some other customers. We would love to have something in Paris, but the numbers have to work.
WWD: Can you tell us about your Japanese business?
A.B.: Oscar had a huge business in Japan up until about 12, 13, 14 years ago. It was licensed to Mitsukoshi, which was, at the time, the biggest department store in Japan. But it was a big, big business.
WWD: Did you do a separate collection for the Japanese market?
O.D.L.R.: Yes. What they would do actually was come and look at the collection, and would be inspired by the New York collection and would create the Japanese collection. But you know when you look at the product it was really very, very, very different in looks and price range from what the New York collection was. We were only in one store, with Mitsukoshi. It was not one single license, it was several licenses for accessories. We made the bad decision of canceling all of the licenses that were coming to an end all at the same time, and we decided to grab that opportunity and cancel all of the licenses. What we should have done is probably cancel some of the licenses and make a partnership with the store and say, "Let's do this business in a different manner, but we want to keep you as a partner." Unfortunately, it was a bad decision on my part. Mitsukoshi is such a big force in Japan, no one wanted to touch the brand after we had dropped Mitsukoshi.A.B.: The Asian part of our geographic picture is not what it needs to be. We're working on it. In the rest of the world, we are pretty happy. I wish we were doing business with Lane Crawford in Asia. I think they do a great job. They purchased Joyce and we have a great business with Joyce — an expanding business with Joyce — not only in Hong Kong, but in Shanghai. So that relationship has become closer and we're hopeful we'll get things moving there.
WWD: Has the Web site been completely redesigned?
A.B.: It was completely redesigned by a company called Create the Group. We are huge believers in the Internet, both as a branding tool and as a commerce vehicle. What we have relaunched is not e-commerce-enabled at this point, intentionally so. We have a lot of nifty features. A lot of original content. We've got Oscar discussing the aspects of the house. We will continue to add original content. Probably in 30 days, we will start to slowly add e-commerce to the site.
We'll probably start with small leather goods and ultimately we're going to have fine jewelry on the site. We're going to have the full range. You will be able to, if you want to, spend $40,000 on a sapphire necklace — you can do that over the Internet, just not yet. It's all very well scheduled and with [Create the Group principal] James Gardner's help, we hit all of our targets and again we'll have e-commerce soon. Then what we really want to do — I think where a lot of the power of the Internet gets unleashed — is introduce some interactivity into it, and we could have some special guest bloggers who could talk about the collection. Some of our Internet partners, in particular Net-a-porter, have sold $5,000 to $10,000 evening pieces, more cocktail than gowns, but we sell cocktail like crazy over the Internet. I don't know how, but it's working.
O.D.L.R.: It's very funny because the European consumer is a far easier consumer to sell than the American consumer. Europeans don't return. Americans return.WWD: How are your accessories selling right now?
O.D.L.R.: If you look at most brands that are really successful in other parts of the world, they're really accessory brands. I think we need to build our accessory business in a much stronger way to penetrate those markets in a much stronger manner.
WWD: Oscar, are you as in love with the accessories as you are with the clothes?
O.D.L.R.: I love accessories, because accessories are unbelievably important, but you know, I am a designer of clothes, and accessories are very, very important. I always said, regardless of when I see a woman, strange enough, I never look at what she is wearing. I first look at the shoes to see if she is well dressed.
WWD: But for the accessories, you would only do Collection accessories in-house — you wouldn't sign a deal for accessories, say handbags?
O.D.L.R.: No. We have tried and it doesn't work.
A.B.: I think that, and Oscar, this is where you can disagree with me, I think that what are we selling at our company? We are selling the finest make, and for us to delegate the make of bags to someone else is a problem. We need to supervise every stitch closely, and if that means we have a smaller, more focused collection, then so be it, because we need to do it ourselves, because it needs to be made in exactly the right way in the best standards, as our clothes are.
WWD: What about the jewelry? How is that going? Are you going to continue the relationship with Loulou de la Falaise?
O.D.L.R.: Sure, absolutely.
A.B.: We definitely intend to continue. We are thrilled with the results. It's in the early days. Inventory is sort of going into the system now. What's out there has turned pretty quickly. I frequently check the results from the stores, including an occasional Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon call, and we get walk-in customers in New York and Miami who'll come in and buy a very expensive necklace. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the look that you and Loulou like so much seems to have some legs.WWD: Are you making it all yourself?
A.B.: Yes, there is actually a gentleman, Mr. Mahesh Bharany, that Oscar has known for 40 years.
O.D.L.R.: Well, I knew his father, and now his son.
A.B.: And Mr. Bharany Jr. is executing the designs that Oscar and Loulou de la Falaise work out.
WWD: Are you going to carry bridal at all of your stores?
A.B.: I think not. The bridal business would be a great example of why I'm deeply schizophrenic about licenses. You know we had a licensed line that Oscar spent almost as much time designing. It was all his designs, but then it was executed and distributed by a licensed partner, and they were distributing to stores like Saks and Neiman's with whom we do business, and they weren't able to deliver and Saks would call up and say, "Where's the bridal stuff?" and I would say, "Oh, gosh, it's the license."
WWD: They didn't deliver, or they didn't deliver quality merchandise?
A.B.: They delivered badly or didn't deliver at all. So we decided that we wanted to bring it back in-house and we're not trying to be the biggest bridal vendor in the world. We are really looking at it as an opportunity to introduce someone to our brand and not only who Oscar is, but what service is about at our company, and we've positioned it very intentionally at the highest end. We intend to keep it there. We show it once a year. Other people do twice. I don't think we have any intention of expanding it to two. We'll leave it at one. It's been a very consistent, strong business.
WWD: Where do things stand on a secondary line?
A.B.: As you know, we and Kellwood have parted ways over the women's sportswear [O Oscar] and we have had several propositions to get back into that business. We are proceeding with caution. First of all, I think that there are few qualified parties as a licensed partner who don't have conflicts. The one thing we've learned in getting into a licensed category is to make sure there aren't conflicts.WWD: You mean with competing collections?
A.B.: Yes, and then further, I look to what Ralph has done with the Lauren line and they brought that back in-house, and it has really accelerated in a dramatic way. Now my suspicion is, if we were to get back into the sportswear business under O Oscar, we will figure out a way to do it ourselves. It might be required that we do it on a smaller scale initially and demonstrate some success on a smaller scale before we ramp it up, but again, Oscar himself spent a lot of time on the designs for O Oscar and the designs were sold, the business plans were sold — the execution of the designs is not what we expected.
O.D.L.R.: It's very different and God knows, we put a lot of effort [in]. We really liked the people we were working with, but in the end, even if they were across the street from us...
WWD: Would it be possible to do that kind of collection in-house?
A.B.: Definitely possible.
WWD: But would it make sense?
O.D.L.R.: I think if you look at the example of who is successful today, you know there was a time where we thought licensing was kind of a great business, but today we think about it in a very different way. Today, when you do everything in-house, regardless of our resources, it's probably going to take a longer time. But at the end, I think that we will have a much stronger chance of succeeding.
WWD: It seems to move in cycles, that everyone wants to do a licensing deal, and then everyone wants to bring the business in-house.
O.D.L.R.: I think the licensing business on the whole is a very treacherous business because you know you're giving up control that, eventually, is very difficult to retrieve.
WWD: Do you think you need to work harder on building more moderate and better lines to make the company more attractive to a potential buyer?A.B.: I think that I'm skeptical of license arrangements as a general matter. I think that we have many licenses that are successful partnerships. I would point to our sunglasses at Marchon, which has done a great job, and there are some businesses like that that are highly specialized, and I think that they require a licensed approach. We'll continue to emphasize home, with our furniture and fabrics licenses. We think fragrance is a huge opportunity, and it hasn't kept pace with the rest of the business. YSL Beauté has the license. We hope to take better advantage of it soon.
On the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of control that one gives up in the best-constructed license and, I think, especially when you get into things like executing business plans for labels that are different than your original label. You know it becomes challenging, and I think we have enough to do with the Oscar de la Renta label.
WWD: But that's where the big business is, especially down the road if you were to sell the company or bring a partner in — there is huge potential at another price range.
A.B.: Not that we approach things this way, but in response to what you said, my feeling would be, let them do that. If we're out and [new owners] decide to take it down, then they can take it down. I think that for us there is so much we can do to compete with the European brands, the American brands, we're just scratching the surface.
O.D.L.R.: When you look at who our competition is, obviously today, fashion is a worldwide business and I see that our competition is not really any specific American brand, it's really European brands. Our own retail business is doing unbelievably well, and you can talk to the stores — Saks, Bergdorf's, Neiman Marcus — and see.
A.B.: I will give you an example based on statistics published in your newspaper a couple weeks ago. Valentino's business is roughly the same size as ours in the U.S. — actually, ours is a bit bigger — but roughly it's about the same size. Their business outside the U.S. is three times the size of their U.S. business. There are some special situations there. Italy is particularly difficult for non-Italian brands, so he has got some business there that maybe we can't aspire to, so I make no comments in regards to design. I don't want to be where Valentino is today, but when I look at their top line geographically, how things are spread out, I think it's instructive. I want to emphasize that's a way that I benchmark what we're up to. There are other brands that do things well that we think we can learn lessons from.WWD: Do you have swimwear at this point?
A.B.: Oscar and I were discussing that, whenever we do swimwear, which is done by Oscar very — I wouldn't want to use the word haphazardly — whenever we do it, it sells like crazy, and I told Oscar that we've got to be doing a more organized swimwear program. Again, not under a license; we would do it ourselves. We've found some factories in Italy who can deal with Lycra.
WWD: Is daywear two-thirds of your business right now?
A.B.: Two-thirds is actually probably about right.
WWD: Where would you like to see it be relative to the accessories? Where would you like to see the accessories get to? Fifty percent?
A.B.: You know, I don't look at it that way. I don't have any sort of long-range goal. What I would say is that, as I look at our competitors and see the size of their business, our accessories business is not a $20 million business at retail, and I think in the very near term, we should have a $20 million business. Once we get to $20 million, we'll shoot for $40 million, and then we'll take it from there. We're within striking distance of that, but we're not there yet. Oscar is so well known for evening, but as Oscar well knows, our biggest business in terms of dollars — forget about units — is sweaters right now. If you expand it to include blouses and tops, it is by far our biggest business.
WWD: Sweaters are a bigger business than eveningwear?
WWD: But you don't seem to make a big deal of them on the runway.
O.D.L.R.: You are mostly responsible for it. Every time you say, "Oh my goodness, the collection was so long," I say, "What the heck is she talking about?" If you show 10 more dresses, it takes one minute. The most difficult thing is trying to make a show that is going to last 10 minutes and not 15. When you edit and edit and edit, you find that you lose the picture. Remember that I come from a world when we would show 150 pieces.WWD: From our perspective, the attention span has gotten so narrow. No one has ever left a fashion show — any fashion show, ever — and said, "I wish he'd shown more."
O.D.L.R.: It makes a huge difference. You want to go and see what this is all about and you are a professional and you get it very quickly and you are in and out and you did your job. When you are dealing with the buyers, they say, "Oh, that dress is wonderful. Why didn't you show it?' Even with the accessories we sell far much more and we try again with the accessories to condense it, and we can only show 20 different styles of shoes. The shoes that sell are the shoes that showed, unfortunately.
A.B.: We spent a lot of time discussing whether we have the show right, lengthwise. I actually think that it does force one to get focused on what the collection is about, and so I think it's a useful exercise for Oscar to go through. What I would tell you, and Oscar may dispute this, [is that] I think Oscar is emotionally wound up in the clothes.
O.D.L.R.: You know, I always tell this as a joke, but it's absolutely true: Two days before the show we have the whole collection photographed — accessorized and the models — and we have 120 pieces and they say we have to reduce it by half. You know what my biggest problem is? The dress that everybody hates, I feel sorry for the dress.
A.B.: I'll tell Oscar that 70 looks are too much and we've got to cut it down to 60, and never does he get more angry with me.
WWD: You are in the forefront of the people who are showing resort in a major way on the runway. Can you talk about that a little bit?
O.D.L.R.: When I started working on the resort collection, Alex came to me and said certain designers were doing a big presentation and I argued with Alex and said it was a waste of money, and then, obviously, he gave me a very good argument. He said the collection half an hour later is going to be on YouTube, and why it's important to make a big, important presentation. We are talking about a lot of buyers that we are selling clothes to do not come to see resort, and those buyers need access to the collection. So how do we give them access by making a presentation that half an hour later they can look at?A.B.: We don't approach the development of any of the four major collections differently. All of them, the components are the same, the fashion element, the commercial element — everything is done in a similar fashion.
WWD: The fourth major collection, do you mean pre-fall?
A.B.: We showed pre-fall last year, and I anticipate that we'll do that again, but it seems to me that, with the way media is, the world is changing, the objectives of a runway show are changing a bit or maybe they are expanding, and it is a real brand moment. The audiences we're addressing at a runway show are expanding, and with the Internet, there are many more people we're addressing.
O.D.L.R.: I will not mention whom, but I was trying to be convinced to go back to the tents. My problems with the tents is that I have a very limited time to be able to do the kind of presentation that we feel that we need to make. And my argument was I hate those black tents. And they came back to me and said, "You want a white tent, we'll give you a white tent," so I went back to Alex, and said, "Alex they're going to give me a white tent," and even with the white tent, we wouldn't have the time to do whatever we need to do. It's not important to us to fill the tent with 800 people. Actually, we know that we can accomplish much more by having a much smaller audience because we are reaching a much bigger audience elsewhere. And that is what is important.
WWD: Let me go off topic from the house of Oscar de la Renta just for a bit because this is something we have to talk about for the paper. Now I want to talk about resort. From our standpoint, it's just endless.
O.D.L.R.: It's crazy.
WWD: What do you think about it? I know that you, Dior and Chanel are not going to show later. Do you think that there is any way, given that designers from three countries show here, that there is any way to codify it, to rein it in?O.D.L.R.: I think there should be a calendar for resort in the same manner as there is a calendar for spring, and a calendar for early fall. I think that it's crazy.
WWD: Because we have the French showing here, the Italians showing here, how could people get together to focus on a calendar?
O.D.L.R.: We make a collection. If Chanel or Dior is showing one — and we consider them our competition — we feel we have to deliver our clothes at the same time they are.
O.D.L.R.: Or before, so I mean these people who are showing four weeks, five weeks, 10 weeks later, I don't understand what they are doing because already now we are working on spring. I think you have to seriously say, "Guys, we are cutting off after such a date." You know, in my mind — perhaps correct me if I'm wrong — a lot of these houses are approaching resort or early fall as "Let's try to get some additional business," but they are not really saying, "Let's really make a serious effort of getting great business."
WWD: I'd like to ask Oscar a couple of fashion questions. Can you articulate where you see the state of American fashion right now?
O.D.L.R.: I think there are a lot of very talented people, but in the sense of true competition in the way of sales and volume, it's really the European houses.
A.B.: I think there are so many talented designers working today. I think we have a ton of competition, and I think it makes us better. We think a lot about all aspects of our business and, first and foremost, it has to be great product. Oscar knows that much better than I do. I think that competition is extremely healthy and I think that there's a lot of good competition out there. There's a lot of young guys, some older guys and people are doing neat stuff.WWD: What do you think is going to happen with Valentino? Do you have any opinion of Alessandra Facchinetti? Do you know her work?
O.D.L.R.: When there is sort of change in the business, there's always a big question mark, and Valentino was a tremendously strong person in the business. I don't really know how much he was working in the last few years because I'm not party to it, but when that presence is no longer there, I suppose in the mind of the consumer there is a question mark of what is going to happen to the business. In our case, I think that we have the same price range, we are an extremely strong business and our next expansion in the business will be through our own retail and not really through selling to the stores.
A.B.: When you look at brands like Hermès and Vuitton, they're very different brands than ours. Nevertheless, I think there are some lessons to be learned there as to how they handle their retail and wholesale distribution. Vuitton has no wholesale distribution. They have wholesale outlets, but leased departments, and I think it's not coincidental that they're the most profitable luxury brand in the world.
WWD: Oscar, you said earlier that your competition is not other people in American fashion, it's really the Europeans...
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