Despite the countless curveballs the pandemic has thrown at Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim, the co-creative directors of the Oscar de la Renta fashion brand, the pair have hit a home run this year in terms of PR.
It began with dressing Scarlett Johansson for the Oscars; Emma Corrin then wore a voluminous royal blue design on the October cover of British Vogue, and last month the call came from Dr Jill Biden requesting a dress to wear as her husband claimed victory in the race to be the 46th President of the United States of America.
“It was all very organic,” says Garcia on the phone from Manhattan where the pair are based. “Dr Biden was, like: ‘I would like to purchase this for the big night’ and we were accommodating. To Laura and I, it’s about empowering the women we admire. Dr Biden is very proud to be feminine. I think she is powerful that way.”
The $5,690 embroidered, asymmetric dress with trademark drapery was part of an existing collection, already discounted on some sites. They made the necessary adjustments, created a matching mask and couriered it to Delaware in time for the victory speech on the evening of November 7. Was he not surprised she didn’t request something previously unseen or a custom piece?
“I was not surprised. I think it speaks volumes about who she is. She believes in supporting our business and believed in our design and we are here to help her and her wonderful next eight years,” he says, hopeful of a two-term presidency. “Hillary was always there for us — we definitely think that Dr Biden is on that path.”
Choosing two immigrant designers for her first appearance as First Lady-elect (Garcia was born in the Dominican Republic and Kim in South Korea), in the wake of a Trump campaign built on virulently nationalist rhetoric is a powerful statement. But Garcia downplays the suggestion. “I believe Dr Biden was wearing something that she fell in love with. It’s complementary that it happens to be coming from two immigrant designers. I don’t think there was much more thought to it other than we were very honoured and flattered that we were a part of that.”
But this is by no means the first time one of the pair’s designs has garnered global attention. In 2018, the world looked on as Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s mother, Doria Ragland, arrived at her daughter’s wedding in a mint green Oscar de la Renta dress with a matching coat and hat. The duchess “phoned me a couple of months before the wedding”, says Garcia. “She said: ‘I’d love an American brand to be represented, I’d like you to be a part of it’. It was very patriotic what she was doing. It was something we should all be very proud of, that she was carrying the American flag so aggressively towards that very important moment in our history. We still stay in touch. I admire her clarity, her sincerity. And I love that she is a little bit closer to us here.”
Garcia puts California-based Meghan in the same category of “hard-working, trailblazing women” he and Kim have become known for dressing, joining Biden, Clinton and Amal Clooney (who wore an Oscar de la Renta dress at her wedding in 2014, the same year de la Renta passed away).
Garcia and Kim might just be the hardest-working designers in fashion today. When they are not designing for “Oscar” they carve out two days a week to work on their other brand Monse, which specialises in luxurious knits and day-to-night dresses. Having worked under the founder for a combined 17 years, in 2016 they were given the top job to share. In 2021 they hope to complete 10 collections across both brands.
Once the travel ban is lifted London will be one of Garcia’s first stops. The duo have a long-standing relationship with the British photographer Tim Walker, who shoots their advertising campaigns, and Garcia reveres London’s designers. “I adore what JW Anderson does, I think he’s a creative powerhouse; there is something important about having a heart with how you work with your team — Christopher Kane is the embodiment of that; I think Richard Quinn also is quite refreshingly aggressive.”
And where is his home from home in the capital? “I adore the energy of Chiltern Firehouse. I think it’s the closest thing that we have to New York City in Europe. It’s quite inspiring to see the way British people live in that environment: they’re quite frivolous and confident and sexy.”