Oscar de la Renta’s joie de vivre lives on at New York Fashion Week
Peter Copping’s first turn as creative director stays true to the late designer’s legacy, with a femininity that remains refined yet upbeat
There are not many catwalk shows at which you will find Nancy Kissinger and Taylor Swift sharing a front row, a fact which pinpoints precisely why the Oscar de la Renta show is the most important of this New York Fashion Week.
For four decades Oscar de la Renta, who died last year aged 82 , helped define the very image of America. He all but invented the notion of first lady fashion; created legendary Academy Award red carpet gowns; dressed Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. Less than two months before his death, he designed the wedding gown for the almost-royal wedding of America’s bachelor prince, George Clooney, to Amal Alamuddin.
While ill with cancer Oscar de la Renta appointed his own successor in Peter Copping, a 48-year-old British designer whose relative anonymity belies a successful 20-year career in Paris fashion, most recently as designer of Nina Ricci. De la Renta’s plan for Copping to work alongside him for a seamless handover never came to pass, however, as the older designer died in between Copping signing the contract and taking up his post.
That this was a succession blessed by De la Renta himself meant that Copping's debut this week felt a harmonious affair, with no warring camps. Oscar de la Renta remains majority-owned by the family, and with relatives in key executive positions. There was never any question of Copping remaking this house in his own image - successful though that approach has proved recently, in the cases of Phoebe Philo at Celine and Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent.
Therein lies the challenge facing Copping, because it will not be lost on him that it is very possible to kill off a brand with kindness. Fashion thrives on newness, not reverence. If the brand is to stay relevant, homages to Oscar wil not do.
In front of an audience dominated by the Oscar old guard - for the first time this New York fashion week, fox and mink coats outnumbered hooded army-green parkas three to one - the first look on to the catwalk was a black cashgora coat with opulent jet embroidery, worn over an ivory satin-back crepe dress. So far, so Oscar: except the high, almost polo-neck peeking above the black coat mirrored one of the week’s hippest street-style looks , a colour-contrast polo-neck being this chilly New York Fashion Week’s acceptable take on thermal underwear.
There were other such youthful nods, to the kookier seam of Paris fashion week trends: the louche, 1970s colour combination of a mink coat in patchworked copper and chestnut worn over a violet-toned satin dress. When the first floor-length gown appeared on the catwalk - white silk faille, with black lace embroidered roses - the first thing you noticed was that Copping had added deep pockets, into which the model thrust her hands, lending a new slouchy attitude.
Pushed to put a figure on it, you might say this collection was eight parts Oscar, two parts Copping: which seems, perhaps, a good place to start. That Copping would capture the femininity of Oscar de la Renta was never in doubt - Nina Ricci was excellent training for that - but more impressive was that he captured the joie de vivre of the house, refined yet upbeat in that peculiarly American way.
“I brought in more short dresses, and new fabrications - a modern, light duchess satin, for instance, where before it would have been taffeta,”Copping said backstage after the show. “I wanted to be respectful to Oscar’s legacy, and at the same time fashion moves quickly, so you have to state your intentions straight away."