OSCAR BUILDS A BRIDGE
Byline: Bridget Foley
NEW YORK — Ladies, listen up. Oscar de la Renta is ripe to be exploited. Fashion’s most debonair designer wants to broaden his circle of chic devotees. In fact, he’s banking on it, with a new wide-ranging bridge collection called Oscar Oscar de la Renta, premiering for fall. “With my designer collection, I work with the idea that price is no object. The reality of that is that it’s available to very few women,” de la Renta said last week before flying to Paris to do fittings for his Balmain couture collection. “I have a well-known name, but except for areas like fragrance, my name hasn’t been exploited. This line will reach a much broader market.” Oscar officially opens in February, but top retailers were scheduled to preview it this week and next.
De la Renta is the last of the major American designers to play bridge, and his game plan is as broad as any. While the category has traditionally had a career and casual focus, he is emphasizing evening along with those areas.
“It was very important to us to address that aspect of bridge since there has been a void,” de la Renta says. “And besides, that’s what people would expect from me.
“Everyone talks about lifestyle dressing, but I really mean it,” he continues. “This collection has the total flexibility that a woman needs. That means practical clothes when she wants to dress in a practical manner, glamorous clothes when she wants to be a glamour girl and relaxed clothes for the weekend.”
At the moment, evening focuses on short dresses and pantsuits in vivid slubbed silks. Other de la Renta signatures, including lounging pajamas and embroidered pieces, will be added later in the season. Dresses are important for daytime as well, with the focus on ladylike sheaths and A-lines worn with matching coats. There are also plenty of career-oriented tailored looks, some with a racy edge, a surprise from Oscar.
“This is my first opportunity to make a strong statement of how I feel a working woman should dress, and there are many possibilities,” he says, noting that bridge price points afford him certain opportunities that tonier tickets do not. “You see this raincoat?” he asks, pointing to a laminated flannel trench. “I had it in my collection. Nobody bought it. Stores don’t buy those kinds of clothes from me.
“Having a lot of younger people around my offices helps, too,” de la Renta adds. “A lot of women work, from age 18 to whatever. They all need choices.”
While Oscar insists that he is the very hands-on design director of this new collection, he also lavishes praise on his two chief designers, Patricia Clyne, who heads wovens, and Allyson Shenar, in charge of knitwear. Clyne had her own collection for 10 years and then spent the last three as head designer for Ann Taylor; Shenar has worked for Adrienne Vittadini, Liz Claiborne and Donna Karan Knitwear.
“Patricia and Allyson are wonderful,” Oscar says. “They have experience I don’t have. The clothes have to look like me, but the greatest challenge was to deliver the look and high quality in a new price range. Patricia has so much experience, especially with fabrics, and Allyson is a great technician with knits.”
Oscar is produced by license through Apparel Group International, a new company formed specifically to handle the de la Renta business. Its principals include chairwoman Colette Mordo, chief executive officer Alan Mordo and president and chief operating officer Charles Jayson. The Mordos are also principals in Sadimara, which has produced Anne Klein Knitwear for the past 15 years.
“There’s a big void in luxury knitwear,” Jayson says. “We want Oscar to be a collection women can come to for everything they need, whether it’s a career suit or a great item like a sweater.”
To that end, de la Renta and Jayson are insisting on in-store shops. As the designer puts it, “That’s the only way it works.” Frederic Zonsius Architects has developed a model plan, a clean design which plays blush glass and chrome against gray-toned flooring.
Among the stores set to preview the collection are Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Jacobson’s and Bergdorf Goodman. “These stores have a very strong de la Renta business and also a strong bridge business,” says Jayson. “In addition, Bloomingdale’s has a very strong bridge business and is also strong with Oscar branded fragrances.” The collection will be launched simultaneously in the U.K., Canada and Mexico, and the first shipment will be in stores in July.
“We’ve been laboring over this for a long time now,” says de la Renta. “I’ve really wanted to do this for years, but I never had the right vehicle. Now, with Chuck [Jayson], I feel I do.” This is his first complete bridge collection; the designer had a bridge dress license with the Hero Group, which closed two years ago.
“This customer — the working woman with so many lifestyle needs — is the most important consumer out there today,” de la Renta sums up. “She’s a new woman, and until now I’ve been paying very little attention to her.”