Oscar de la Renta's successor Peter Copping finds his feet at US brand
It was a particularly hot summer's evening in London when a new designer and new cruise collection were introduced with a cocktail party. Everyone who had known or worn designs by Oscar de la Renta wanted to be there and meet the late titan of New York fashion's anointed heir, 48-year-old Peter Copping.
They gathered to talk to the mild-mannered, softly spoken Englishman, who showed sunshine yellow dresses with floral prints or embroideries, ruffled ladylike suits, a pair of taffeta gowns and, of course, the Oscar de la Renta signature skirt and blouse sets with brushstroke prints.
For his debut Copping had captured succinctly the joie de vivre of the fabled American fashion house. Last October, de la Renta handpicked Copping to be his successor. The 82-year-old American designer had been battling lymphoma since 2006 and was keen to protect the legacy of the house, which he had established in 1967, and he saw Copping as his heir-apparent.
"However, things did not go quite to plan," says Copping, regretfully. "I was meant to arrive and work with Oscar over a couple of seasons."
A week after Copping's appointment was announced, de la Renta died and there was an enormous outpouring of emotion for the charismatic designer who had dressed personalities from Hollywood to Capitol Hill.
How difficult was it to arrive at the house just days later in the midst of that sorrow?
"I know what it is to lose people and grieve, and I appreciate what his family was going through. But I think they saw my arrival as a positive moment as well," says Copping.
Such is the intensity of fashion that he did not have time to dwell on what might have been: "It was exciting to be in the house and, being British, I just got on with it."
He presented his first collection in February (autumn-winter 2015). "I didn't have long, but I did have enough time to research images and search the archives. In fact, as soon as I knew I was going to Oscar my brain started racing with ideas."
Copping had researched silks in Como and had shipped 140 crates of books from his Paris apartment. When he arrived in the American's studio he found de la Renta's own library preserved and marked with designer Post-it notes.
The positive feedback from press and buyers to his debut "shows the parallels between Oscar and myself were probably quite close: we definitely shared the same design aesthetic," says the designer.
There was praise from press and customers such as Barbara Walters and socialite Mercedes Bass, who described the collection as "very respectful", while Tim Blanks of Style.com thought it wasn't "overly reverent" but had a "deft sense of colour". There was chic daywear, a tweaking of hemlines and a ballerina dress for the youthful in the audience such as Taylor Swift. Newly introduced elements may include the floral prettiness of Copping's collections at Nina Ricci, which are likely to be more apparent in the upcoming cruise collection.
He already had an established pedigree, previously spending 12 years with Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, where he designed womenswear, before becoming artistic director at Nina Ricci in 2009 - a very romantic, feminine Parisian sort of maison. He hopes his former Nina Ricci customers will be lured to the US label.
The new collection has just arrived at Joyce and Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong. "I don't think the brand is very present in Asia at the moment," says Copping. "But we can supply fashion that can speak to an Asian woman."
The dresses and skirt looks are especially appealing. There are also plans to develop accessories and knitwear.
One of de la Renta's last coups was to design Amal Clooney's wedding dress, so bridal has potential, too. De la Renta trained with Cristóbal Balenciaga and spent several years in the 1990s jetting between New York and Paris, where he turned around the fortunes of the ailing house of Pierre Balmain.
His experience as the "Concorde couturier" resulted in one of the best-equipped ateliers in New York, which pleases Copping, who admits to being spoiled by Parisian craftsmanship.
For five decades de la Renta was a White House fixture. He dressed Barbara Bush and coaxed Clinton out of black suits into pale pinks, blues and even gold lace. He had a vibrant customer base that included Sarah Jessica Parker and Penelope Cruz.
Copping, meanwhile, has in a few short months notched up Sienna Miller at the Oscars, Amanda Seyfried at the Emmy's, Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger. He was especially pleased to dress Met Ball co-chairwomen Wendi Deng (Murdoch) and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer for the ball.
The Manhattan social scene is a world away from the sleepy Oxfordshire village where Copping and his sister were raised. His father was in the Royal Air Force and the only connection the young Copping had with the fashion world was catwalk reports in his grandmother's magazines.
Copping's husband, celebrated floral designer Rambert Rigaud, was also was eager to make the move to New York. "He's French but had become a little disillusioned with France and Paris. The one thing I was most stressed about was the cats, but they are very happy and settled here," he says of their two Siamese, Minnie and Tino.
So too, it appears, is Copping.
When he was offered the role it felt like a logical step. "I had put Nina Ricci on the map and I thought opportunities like this don't always come along."
Taking on such an important house is no small feat, especially since the name's influence extends far beyond the reaches of fashion magazines or runways but to the political and moneyed social elite.
"They know I respect the sort of woman that Oscar designed for and I'll keep it looking sophisticated and chic," says Copping. "But you can shake things up by making small changes."