New Guard

By Revekah Echols

The myth lives on at Oscar de la Renta

Almost no one outside of fashion had heard of British-born designer Peter Copping before last October. The first-ever successor to Oscar de la Renta rarely gave interviews or photo-ops throughout his 30-year career. But Copping became the center of speculation and anticipation last month as he debuted his first collection for the label at New York Fashion Week.

Oscar de la Renta, while certainly not a small player — the collection spans fashion, bridal, shoes, accessories, home and fragrance — was always run as a private family business, unlike behemoth fashion conglomerates, such as Kering or LVMH. And the de la Renta label never experienced a change of the designer guard, as the man himself maintained creative control since the inception of his collection in 1965.

When designers are hired to an existing fashion house, the talent is scouted, the parties decide whether it’s a good match and negotiations ensue. When all goes well, hands shake and dotted lines are signed. But the problem is almost never about finding someone talented enough or with the right pedigree or even someone with the right aesthetic. It is more often a case of personality, which is not easily quantifiable, especially in an industry known for drawing passionate, dramatic people.

Furthermore, Copping was replacing Oscar de la Renta himself. The Dominican-born designer, who never strayed from his vision, accrued legions of followers over five decades. Never edgy or garish, always classic and luxurious, de la Renta never tried to reinvent the line, but continued to stay relevant and modern. In 2011, his store in New York City was named the most expensive on Madison Avenue, with an average sales ticket ringing in at over $3,200.

It seemed that the person to succeed the man must also know how to perpetuate the myth. And that’s where Peter Copping came in. As creative director of Nina Ricci, a line that shared de la Renta’s enthusiastic femininity, Copping demonstrated the ability to produce timeless clothes that drew less attention to the person who designed them and centered directly on the women who wore them.

So when de la Renta hired Copping, he seemed like the natural choice, and heads nodded effusively among magazine editors and fashion-philes everywhere. The two men not only shared a similar visual aesthetic, but their ethics about design seemed to be eerily congruent. Sadly, before the apprentice and transition period began, Oscar de la Renta died, and Copping was left to create the 2015 fall collection essentially from scratch.

The page officially turned when Copping presented his collection to a standing room only audience at Lincoln Center. Models pranced down the runway in white rollneck blouses and black tweed car coats. Collarless jackets were sharply belted and finished with high-waisted pencil skirts. Silk sheath dresses were juxtaposed with bracelet-length fur coats. Evening dresses were elegant and sophisticated, yet grown-up. The collection paid homage to de la Renta’s signature uptown style, but it felt a little sexier and with a more nuanced attitude. The collection was an absolute critical success.

The next test is how it will perform commercially once it hits stores in the fall. Copping’s first collection continues the life and work of Oscar de la Renta by respecting the history of the brand while introducing a new perspective to it.

Ladies will be lunching in style for the foreseeable future.