Everything involves risk, even choices driven by pragmatism.
The decision by Oscar de la Renta to show its own collection and Monse together, both now officially designed by Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, was risky. It seemed a financial decision, and on that level made all the sense in the world. These shows cost fortunes to stage. In the majority of cases, the sets are so-what, and guests care far more about how long it will take to get to a venue than how deeply its ambience will relate to the brand. For a brand or group to save on production costs when the possibility arises just sounds smart.
Would that money alone were the lone consideration behind a move as unconventional as back-to-back showings. Those involved in this decision must have talked through various scenarios. Best-case: two smash hits, distinctive in tone, but with high levels of allure. Other obvious possibilities: that the two collections would be too similar, or that one would look far better than the other. Bingo.
Kim and Garcia delivered a strong, buoyant Monse collection that, though au courant and young, is far from juvenile. They are targeting an adult customer whose idea of street is a pair of slimmed-down cargo pants and a bomber jacket done up with an eruption of Mongolian lamb. She believes in dressing up while giving expression to her innate creative streak. The designers played to that yearning with more of the shirting manipulations they started with a year ago, which is a good thing. In a short time, they’ve established a template on which to expand. This includes a growing focus on impressive de- and re-reconstructed tailoring. Along the way, a few tricks could have been eliminated, for example, the “falling stripe” attached to the bust of a sweater, and their grommet-heavy attempts at edgy. Yet for the most part, their decorative ways worked well, particularly for evening, as in a strapless blue column with a splash of sequined embroidery.
While Monse was all about complications of cut and construction that made hay with sartorial conventions, Kim and Garcia’s Oscar de la Renta sought precision and perfection. The contrast set up an obvious, uncomfortable dichotomy: One collection felt forward thinking and idiosyncratic; the other, unintentionally retro, mired in the past.
There’s no other way to say it: The Oscar de la Renta collection looked old. Not in the sense of sophisticated, common-sense chic for the house’s elegant core customer, but old-fashioned. The designers took multiple tropes of traditional ladylike dressing and put them out there, as if to see what might stick. Some referenced Oscar’s body of work, but not all. Cigarette pants aspired to raciness. Sportif outerwear (a hot pink cocoon coat over leggings) looked Eighties madame, and reed-thin pantsuits, chichi glam. Some of the eveningwear was pretty and channeled Oscar with clarity, if not a reconsidered perspective.
The disparate elements lacked focus and telegraphed that the designers are still determining the blueprint for their Oscar de la Renta. That’s hardly a unique situation; first collections have often failed to indicate future success. Some may recall that the first outing of Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri for Valentino was god-awful, and look where they took it. And not everyone (this critic included) thought Riccardo Tisci hit for the fences his first time up at Givenchy. Of course, they all focused on a single collection.
Still, the fashion annals of the past 20 years are filled with accounts of many designers who did dual-duty so beautifully. (Karl Lagerfeld: Class by himself.) Will Kim and Garcia ultimately be able to pull it off? Time will tell. But given fashion’s current speed, not too much time. Because at Oscar de la Renta, there’s work to be done.