Tonight was the night. Peter Copping, Oscar de la Renta’s handpicked successor, made his runway debut. On one side of the catwalk arrayed to the left and right of Oscar’s widow, Annette, were dames like Barbara Walters, Nancy Kissinger, Mica Ertegun, and Mercedes Bass—honest to goodness buy-a-dress socialites as opposed to the borrow-a-dress socialites fashion manufactures for the front row nowadays. On the other side were BFFs Taylor Swift and Oscar favorite Karlie Kloss wearing coordinated, colorful frocks and attracting the eyes of everyone in the room. The symbolism was potent. The brand’s past and its future gathered together to witness the changing of the guard and to pass judgment.

De la Renta and Copping were to have worked side by side, but de la Renta’s death, just days after Copping was appointed last October, prevented that. Copping left a type-written note on each seat: “I am immensely proud to have been chosen as the creative director of Oscar de la Renta,” he began. “Unfortunately things did not go according to our plans and I never had the chance to work with Oscar, which is something I deeply regret.” Instead of learning by doing, Copping leaned on people who had worked with the late designer: his longtime sales director Boaz Mazor, former team member Carolyne Roehm. “We shared a lot of common territory,” Copping said at a preview. “The sort of woman we appreciate, and going beyond that, gardens, homes, all of that sort of thing: We speak the same language.” The stylist Alex White, whom Copping worked with during his five years at Nina Ricci, happened to have styled de la Renta’s shows for a handful of seasons. She provided a helpful bit of continuity, as well.

Still, the pressure on Copping is immense. In his early days on the job he witnessed an enormous outpouring of emotion—not to mention media attention—at the passing of de la Renta, who was a larger-than-life personality and an icon well known from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. On top of that, Copping had just three months to put together the collection, significantly less time than he’s used to. Those challenges aside, he did a fine job honoring de la Renta and the house that he has inherited. Nina Ricci, Copping’s previous house, shares the same feminine codes as his new home, and that worked to his advantage. The coatdresses and skirtsuits that he opened with were as elegant as those of his predecessor, and as luxurious.

But the collection didn’t feel overly reverent. Copping has watched enough revivals in Paris to know that the past can only take you so far. He infused the evening pieces with a certain youthfulness by using unlined lace for bodices, and working on new necklines. Some of the grander ball gowns could’ve used more fine-tuning. But if the fit on those numbers wasn’t quite as finessed as longtime Oscar followers remember, Copping demonstrated his deft sense of color—midnight blue and violet, chartreuse and bordeaux—and a special eye for detail. An ivory column with black embroidered flowers was exquisite, all the more so when it walked by and you got a look at the deep lace inset in back. There was a lot of poise in that gown. All things considered, this was a graceful start.

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