Something unusual happened at New York fashion week on Monday evening as two very different brands – one a venerable American fashion house, the other a cutting-edge young upstart – showed their collections together.
The headline name was Oscar de la Renta, the upper crust American label beloved of the Park Avenue set, which presented its first collection under its new creative directors, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia.
The support act was Monse, Kim and Garcia’s own label – a white-hot brand and favourite of the Instagram set – which is currently doing brisk business producing modern on-trend pieces.
In a dark industrial space lined with silver lurex curtains, the Monse models walked down the catwalk first, presenting a collection of subverted classics. There were deconstructed, ruffled white shirts, dresses fashioned from shiny black tuxedo cloth and stiff grey herringbone.
There were khaki parkas worn over sequinned skirts and velvet pieces in crayola colours and drapey Studio 54 silhouettes. Fashion’s current favourite erogenous zone – the shoulder – was exposed more often than not, with panels of fabric that peeled louchely away from the body of the garments. The designs seemed to be designed to hit the sweet spot between straight up sex appeal and brainy subversion.
Next the silver curtains drew back, the lights brightened and the techno music took a turn for the optimistic as the Oscar de la Renta segment of the show began. The look was more luxe, and simple, focusing on sharp suits, luxe full-skirted gowns and fluid cocktail dresses. There were coats in Schiaparelli pink, deep purple and an impossible-to-keep-clean cream that looked highly strokeable and very expensive.
A lot of this was the sort of bright, monotone wardrobe one would imagine a stateswoman might wear to be spotted in a crowd – fittingly given that Oscar de la Renta made his name dressing first ladies from Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama.
De la Renta died from cancer at the age of 82 in 2014. Over four decades the much loved designer set the template for glossy American style, creating smart, brightly coloured skirt suits for senators and Upper East side lunching ladies alike, and romantic gowns with expansive organza skirts designed for rustling over red carpets. Amal Clooney wore De la Renta when she married George. Hillary Clinton was a fan of his smartly cut suits. Carrie Bradshaw’s avowed adoration on the TV programme Sex and the City helped to propel the brand to a position of global recognition.
De la Renta personally chose the British designer Peter Copping to succeed him. Copping had the difficult task of honouring the founder’s legacy while creating designs that satisfied the industry’s thirst for novelty. The results sometimes struggled to successfully break free of the De la Renta template and Copping’s departure was announced in the summer.
His successors, Kim and Garcia, worked together for several years at Oscar de la Renta before leaving to set up Monse less than two years ago, where past collections have been inspired by workaday items such as striped shirts, pin stripes and trenchcoats, but with the proportions twisted or inverted. In this way, the Monse aesthetic ties into that of brands such as Balenciaga, whose subversions of everyday items of clothing represent the current cutting edge of fashion.
Looking effortless is the Monse modus operandi, Garcia has said of the brand: “Usually, the less dressy you look, the cooler you look” – a tricky idea when combined with the house codes of Oscar de la Renta, a brand that excels in matching-shoes-and-handbag smartness and duchesse satin glamour. In fact, in colour scheme and attitude the two brands meshed well.
At a time of flux for the fashion industry, with designers such as Tommy Hillfiger choosing not to show on the New York fashion week schedule at all, Oscar de la Renta-Monse dual presentation offers a fresh and pragmatic twist to the traditional fashion show. Oscar de la Renta gets buzz and cool points from Monse. And, as part of the deal, Monse gets financial investment and operational assistance from the elder brand. Crucially, the cost of the fashion show is shared between them. Sometimes opposites have good reason to attract.
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