Attending Puig’s anniversary festivities in Barcelona last April, Nina Ricci designer Peter Copping marveled at the number of people willing to take a microphone and talk about their affection for the Spanish beauty and fashion firm.
“It’s incredible the amount of goodwill there is for that group,” he recalled.
You could say the same for Copping, who has cultivated his own admirers after five years helming Ricci and waving the flag for unabashed femininity.
“We’ve achieved a lot in defining what the brand stands for, both internally and externally,” he said in an interview. “We have managed to establish a vocabulary for what can be daywear for Nina Ricci.”
Copping said he pretty much “started fresh” when he arrived at Ricci in 2009 from Louis Vuitton, eager to bring stability to a brand that had seen five designers come and go in the decade before him (Nathalie Gervais, Massimo Giussani, James Aguiar, Lars Nilsson and Olivier Theyskens), and one that became known primarily for long dresses and special occasion wear.
While acknowledging that Puig has big ambitions for Ricci, which it acquired in 1998, “they’re just doing it step-by-step, they’re not rushing things,” Copping said.
The soft-spoken Englishman confesses to some frustrations dealing with “restricted budgets,” especially in comparison with Vuitton, where he was women’s studio director and where the embroidery budget alone could practically eclipse his for the entire Ricci collection.
“The fact is you sometimes don’t get your voice heard because there’s a lot of companies out there shouting,” he said. “You can’t wait too long because there’s a possibility of missing the moment.”
Copping said it’s heartening that magazines have chosen to feature Ricci clothes prominently, although the fashion house does not advertise, and that celebrities have donned his soigné dresses without being paid a big endorsement contract.
“It comes from people appreciating what we do. That’s really rewarding,” he said. “As sales improve and accessories start to work more, that’ll give us more funds to do more.”
He noted several key retailers, including Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York, recently decided to fast-track the collection.
“Although there have been some fits and starts, Nina Ricci has managed to convey a clear sense of itself over the last few years,” said Linda Fargo, senior vice president of the fashion office and store presentation at Bergdorf’s. “At this point, the brand can be counted on for ultimately feminine looks, and for balancing the idea of pretty with modern. There’s something a bit nonchalant and unfussy, yet flirty and coquettish, about the Nina Ricci woman. There’s always a place in the market for this kind of expression, and we’re grateful for the recent consistency.”
Copping has received more funds to invest in the studio and recruit more senior talent, and a more powerful logistics system to aid the product development teams.
In concert with Ralph Toledano, president of the Puig fashion division, Copping decided to “pull back” from footwear and concentrate on handbags first.
Despite Puig’s and Ricci’s usual step-by-step approach, Copping acknowledged the company went “too fast” on shoes, designing ranges that were too extensive and in the “something for everyone” vein rather than “establishing what is a Nina Ricci shoe and what is the customer looking for.”
A revamping of teams in handbags, and a sharp focus on making “proper leather goods” has yielded the Marché, a day bag with handles incorporated into the body of the bag and cinched with delicate hardware. It’s gaining traction commercially and exemplifies a style coherent with Ricci’s ready-to-wear aesthetic.
Yet Copping is convinced the brand’s soft, sensual spirit can speak to a large audience.
“It’s a house where we can do great, appealing products for women,” he said. “And from my experience, a feminine sensibility does tend to appeal to quite a lot of women.”
The designer delivers such statements with a disarming modesty that belies a firm commitment in the aesthetic he mines.
And he views Ricci’s diminutive scale as something of an advantage.
“There’s a place for smaller houses at the top; I think people are looking for alternatives to the bigger brands,” he said, noting that the trend is taking root in China, where luxury consumers are hungry for “something that feels a little more confidential.”
Likewise, Copping has kept Ricci rooted in its feminine universe, even as severe, minimalist clothes stole a lot of thunder in recent years.
“I think you just have to know what you stand for and not get distracted,” he said, wondering why so many brands have “their version of that bag that’s working at the moment. I just don’t get why people do that.”
Copping said he feels at home at Ricci, and there’s no compulsion to be distracted by fashion’s mood swings.
“It’s a good fit,” he said. “The aesthetic that I’ve defined at Ricci is pretty close to my own.”