Transitions at fashion houses are rarely ever orderly and only occasionally are they logical. But at Oscar de la Renta, an era seems to be nearing a fine and tidy end as the designer prepares his company for its next chapter – one without him.
De la Renta has hired his first creative director. And he has at last won over Michelle Obama. His work is done.
On Monday afternoon, the New York-based house announced that it had hired the British designer Peter Copping to fill the newly established position. Until now, de la Renta, the brand’s 82-year-old founder and namesake, had essentially served in that capacity. Copping will step into the job Nov. 3 and will present his first collection next February. He will work in tandem with de la Renta.
Copping comes to the brand from Paris, where he most recently spent five years as artistic director of Nina Ricci. There, he established a feminine, flirtatious but decorous aesthetic – a description that aptly applies to the sensibility at de la Renta. Copping is not a flamboyant personality, but like de la Renta, he can be warm and charming.
“After a career of 20 years in Paris, this is an important next step for me,” Copping said in a statement. “Oscar de la Renta has defined American elegance for generations of women, and the opportunity to work with him and help ensure the future of the brand is very exciting.”
In short, this announcement does not have the ring of a self-conscious grab at buzzy publicity that leaves the industry agog – as was the case with the recent hiring of John Galliano at Maison Martin Margiela — nor does it suggest that de la Renta believes that something about his brand and its point of view needs to be reinvented.
“I’m very happy Peter has agreed to join us. He is a great talent and along with our shared design sensibilities, we both have a deep curiosity about the wider world, from music and art to architecture and gardens,” de la Renta said in a statement. “Our Industry has not always done the best job when it comes to changes in design leadership. My hope is that, in leading this selection, and actively participating in the transition, I can insure the right design future for our company and brand.”
The list of companies in the United States and in Europe that floundered after the retirement or death of the founder is long and instructive: Bill Blass and Emanuel Ungaro, for starters. De la Renta’s decision to bring in a successor while he is still on hand to keep the ship on course may serve as a lesson to other companies. But de la Renta has always had a special knack for allowing youthful energy to invigorate his work. He has continued to reassure his longtime clients while attracting new ones, most recently creating Amal Alamuddin’s wedding gown for her marriage to George Clooney.
But there had been one client who eluded de la Renta: first lady Michelle Obama. The designer has, over the course of more than 50 years in the business, dressed first ladies going as far back as Jacqueline Kennedy. And he created inaugural gowns for Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton. But as Obama explored the offerings of virtually all of Seventh Avenue, de la Renta – who has criticized some of her fashion choices – remained absent from her public wardrobe.
She finally wore one of his dresses last week at a White House cocktail party to celebrate the American fashion industry. It was a private event that was closed to the press, but she was in front of an audience that would be most appreciative of her choice — practically the whole of Seventh Avenue.
De la Renta was invited to the cocktail party, but he sent his regrets. So he was not there for Obama’s debut in his cocktail frock – a sleeveless black dress with gold and turquoise flowers. But he has made every effort to be on hand to make sure that the company he established in 1965 continues to attract first ladies – and perhaps, one day, even a president.