As guests arrived for Peter Copping’s debut as creative director at Oscar de la Renta, they noticed a change in the traditional show space at the company’s 42nd Street headquarters. Instead of flowers as the runway backdrop, there were full-length mirrors set at angles. So it was possible to glimpse the clothes before they emerged from the backstage and into the light.
And so the audience received a bit of a warning about what was to come. The point Tuesday evening was not to shock, but to reassure. Copping delivered a collection that was in eloquent synchronicity with the house’s traditions and aesthetics. He offered tailored jackets, soft dresses and exquisite evening gowns. And through it all, he expressed an unwavering and unapologetic allegiance to female beauty.
This debut was bittersweet. In October 2014, de la Renta announced that he had hired Copping – a British designer who had been working in Paris at Nina Ricci – as his successor. The well-considered plan was to have the younger man work alongside the elder statesman to gain insight into the company and its loyal customers. But de la Renta, 82, died before Copping’s first day of work and before that tutelage could begin. So Copping has had to find his way – understanding both the brand and the man who founded it – on his own.
“I am immensely proud to have been chosen as the creative director of Oscar de la Renta,” Copping wrote in a note left on each guest’s seat. “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.
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“In this, my first collection, I hope to honor Oscar’s legacy and also to start a new chapter for the house.”
As a company, Oscar de la Renta occupies rarified space. It remains one of the last of the great American design houses born in the 1960s, when Seventh Avenue was coming into its own as a place of creativity and not just a grubby neighborhood of knock-off production. De la Renta – the man – helped establish American fashion as we have come to know it through his ambition, talent and social acumen.
He employed all three with charisma and grace until the end. De la Renta dressed the ladies of Park Avenue and Georgetown, as well as Hollywood starlets and Grammy-nominated pop stars. He made bridal gowns for the daughters of presidents Bush and Clinton and the fiancees of movie stars, including Amal Clooney. He crafted the wardrobe of socialites and power brokers. And his clothes were favored by a host of first ladies – including, in his final days, Michelle Obama – as well as those women who have aspired to the role. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at his memorial.
That incomparable legacy was officially, publicly transferred to Copping when the first model stepped onto his runway. He began this new chapter in the company’s history with a black cashgora coat, cut simply, but embroidered with jet beading.
He followed with red-checked tweed jackets with matching skirts, a little navy and black skirt suit and feminine day dresses with a blue rose print. Tasteful. Elegant. Pretty. The fit and construction of these clothes were precise – a testament to the Oscar de la Renta atelier.
Copping’s cocktail dresses and evening gowns, however, were where one started to see a bit more adventurousness and sass. One can see the influence of Copping’s time at Nina Ricci, a house with a history in lingerie. Copping brought a bit of that boudoir sensuality to his new professional home.
His penultimate dress was a lavish ballgown – regal in its sweep – in a combination of navy, bordeaux and peridot. It demonstrated Copping’s willingness to take a courtly approach to femininity. It also showed off his sophisticated sense of color. Indeed, one of his most striking looks was a violet satin dress topped with a color-blocked mink coat in shades of copper and chestnut.
The shifts at Oscar de la Renta under Copping’s direction are subtle, but noticeable. There is a sportier undertone and a bit more nonchalance in styling. There’s more bedroom talk in these clothes, too. But mostly, Copping delivered a collection that is sincerely respectful of the house’s namesake – what he built and who he was.
Oscar de la Renta was a standard bearer. He shaped American fashion into an industry and a conceit that extended beyond just clothes.