Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia didn’t appreciate being dragged to Upper Manhattan to visit the Met’s medieval branch, The Cloisters. But when the boss insists, you do it. Back in 2013, Oscar de la Renta insisted they accompany him to experience the installation of sound artist Janet Cardiff. “I was whining, but then, I was like, it’s amazing!” Kim said during a preview. “Magical,” Garcia recalled, “one the most amazing memories we have of him.”
And one with more tangible resonance than memory. While developing their fall fabrics, that excursion to The Cloisters came to mind, which led to some research into Elizabethan textiles and ornamentation, and from there sprung a myriad of ideas about embroideries and tapestries (yes, there’s a unicorn). By gazing far into the past (and perhaps a little at Valentino), the designers delivered their most refined and resolved effort to date for Oscar de la Renta.
The collection hinged on a fungible balance between decoration and color, both announced with the first look out, a red wool-and-cashmere clutch coat held closed with a crystal-leaf brooch. The leaf motif expanded into embroidered swirls across vibrant natural-waist dresses, a black lace evening dress and oversized shirt cuffs. Textural plays swung weightless and weighty, the former in an organza circle treatment and a huge, magnificent layered tulle coat, the latter, in a ball skirt’s dingy flaura-and-fauna jacquard. While much of the collection was beautiful, at times, one sensed a creative reckoning in progress, as if Kim and Garcia were struggling in front of us to balance reverence with reality. For example, flower-embroidered raw silk pants worn with a lean sweater looked true to the house heritage but past their sell-by date. When the designers went sportier — cropped Aran knit, cotton shirt, olive twill pants — it felt more authentic and current.
Kim and Garcia are charged with bringing the house back to creative and commercial buoyancy while retaining the essence of its founder — a tough task as traditional notions of “lady dressing” continue to recede from prominence in fashion and life. With this collection, they seem on a solid course for the future. But they must be willing and empowered to embrace the past when it feels right and emerge from it when it doesn’t.