Finding time for a call with of-the-moment designers Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia would be best described as a challenge. But what else would you expect when the duo in question is flat out working on not one but two labels?
The first, Monse, is a relative newcomer on fashion’s ever-changing scene, having been launched in 2015; the second is one of the industry’s most fêted houses, Oscar de la Renta. From seasonal collections to wedding lines and more, here is a dynamite working duo that can’t stop, won’t stop.
When we finally manage to coordinate schedules and I find myself dialling across the Pacific to New York City, it’s Garcia who answers. Unfortunately, Kim has found herself caught up in Big Apple traffic and likely won’t make it in time to join our chat, he explains.
Apologies are profuse and sincere. It will take another week before I’m able to catch up with Kim and get her thoughts on the unique journey they’ve been on, and what’s next for both brands. It speaks volumes that the stories Garcia and Kim share separately are so in tune; clearly this mindful alignment plays a large part in why they founded Monse and were asked to rejoin the family house of Oscar de la Renta in the autumn of 2016 after only a two-year hiatus.
It was at de la Renta where Garcia and Kim’s paths first crossed, her as design director of the maison’s electrifying yet beautifully feminine designs, and him as senior designer. What followed was a meeting of minds and a desire to bring something new to market, from which the seed of an idea that would eventually become Monse grew.
“We were very scared that we would look like a version of Oscar [de la Renta], because it was all we knew till that point,” Garcia says, when asked about the young label’s starting point. “So we worked backwards: we looked at the market and we realised what was missing.
“You have your ultra-masculine brands that are very minimal and restrained, like The Row or Alexander Wang, or you have your ultra-feminine brands like Oscar or Giambattista Valli. We saw that there was a need for a brand that was in between what was existing.” Monse has certainly found its niche.
Since being released to fashion’s playground, a unique point of view has quickly become apparent: this is effortless, modern dressing that hinges on uncomplicated yet pulled-together separates working across a spate of looks. Shirting is a big part of the appeal. Deconstructed and redrawn with new proportions, the spring/summer 2017 line-up saw some variations come painted with super-slim stripes, with other designs left perfectly plain to better showcase the cleverly thought-out dimensions.
The autumn/winter 2017 collection offers an even bolder aesthetic, thanks to raw hems, pulled shoulders and full ruffles. “When we started we thought – you know what? – shirts at that point weren’t something that were being overly designed, or done in a modern way,” says Garcia, “and we went from there.”
From “there” to here, with six seasons shown to date, the label has an impressive roster of supporters who instantly get its unfussy and utterly contemporary appeal.
Take Thandie Newton, who attended the Golden Globes swathed in a gleaming white number dripping with crimson sequins, and who more recently stepped out at the Met Gala in a figure-hugging scarlet gown from the label’s autumn/winter 2017 collection (it had been decorated with light-catching Swarovski crystals, of course). As much as they might love such prominent exposure (and Newton herself: “She’s so hardworking and dedicated to her craft,” I’m told), Kim and Garcia are quick to mention that these aren’t just clothes for beautiful actresses or pin-slim models.
“Rickie de Sole [Fashion Market and Accessories Director at W] is a very good friend of ours, and her mother was one of our first clients. She wore a deconstructed shirt pinstripe dress as a top, and that made our year, because we’re able to cater not just to the young people that look at us as a young brand, but also to these women that find us new and fresh and still wearable for them.”
It comes back to the two perspectives that designing as a duo naturally imparts to the clothes themselves. “He designs to make a woman feel sexy and I design to make a woman comfortable with the attitude,” Kim says of how their partnership works.
“It’s true, I definitely find it fun to design sexy things, but Laura balances it by making sure that it’s comfortable,” Garcia concurs. “And what happens is that mixture creates this effortless look, because when something is too body-con in a very sexual way, it doesn’t feel effortless, it feels a little contrived, a little forced. So that balance is everything. She has to look like it took her five minutes to get ready, or it’s not going to work.”
The lithe models that streamed down the spring/summer 2017 catwalk summed it up: hair loose, hands in pockets and all kinds of cool.
At Oscar de la Renta, it’s an altogether different proposition – and one that Garcia and Kim seem equally enamoured with. As a self-confessed movie buff, Garcia describes the way they work across both brands in illuminating terms: “It’s like playing two different characters in a movie. You get to dress this woman here one day, then leave her alone for a bit so she doesn’t get tired of you, and then you go the other woman the next day, and she’s happy to see you and missed you. It’s thrilling.”
Yes, there’s a sense of modernity about the label – albeit one tinged with a romantic classicism – but the grown-up opulence that pervades the collection speaks more of considered sophistication than at younger brand Monse. Of their move back to a label that holds so much history for them both, Garcia is honest: “Was there hesitation? Perhaps. But we were reassured by our CEO [Alex Bolen] who knows us, and we know him very, very well.”
Kim is equally generous in her praise for the brand, and how their return has worked: “Oscar de la Renta is where I grew up, and it’s owned by Oscar’s family, who care a great deal for us. It’s home to us.”
There was no doubt that the delivery of the pair’s first Oscar de la Renta collection, for autumn/winter 2017, was a brave, bold and pointed choice: it shared a catwalk with Monse – a clear signal of two maisons locked and drawn close to one another. The designers describe Oscar de la Renta and Monse as sharing a unique symbiosis, so this challenge to tried-and-tested show etiquette can be seen as a proud and public commitment to that ideal.
“It was too exciting to not have the opportunity to share a catwalk. It felt like nobody had done it, and here we have a very trusting CEO, who’s welcoming of all of our new ideas, and it was just too good to pass on.
“And it was, at the same time, sort of celebratory – it was us, inviting our closest editor and buyer friends, and just sort of celebrating this moment of reunion. It was just very joyous and we wanted to have everyone at the same party, and not split the party up.”
A baby brand in one hand, a historic label in the other: Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia have all the opportunity they could want to be a part of the new guard exploring and remoulding fashion’s universe. We’re watching closely.