Peter Copping showed his debut collection for Oscar de la Renta at New York Fashion Week.

Peter Copping wrote a heartfelt note included on every seat at his first Oscar de la Renta show on Tuesday night. That’s a fashionable thing to do, especially when you're taking over a label: Nicolas Ghesquiere did the same a year ago, at his debut for Louis Vuitton.

Of course, Copping’s circumstances were somewhat different: as he terms it, “things did not go according to plan.” Oscar de la Renta – the man – passed away before Copping had time to work alongside him.

However, Oscar de la Renta – the brand – lives on, with Copping at the helm. His autumn/winter 2015 debut was assured, if a little predictable. Then again, the latter was not just expected, but demanded. There wasn’t a need to revamp the de la Renta identity – it wasn’t broke in the first place, so as the old adage goes there was no need to fix it.

That makes Peter Copping’s job that bit more difficult: how to assert your identity as a designer at a house if people don’t want you to change anything all that much? Much simpler if everyone was tired of the thing and demanded you ditch the past and give everything a reboot. De la Renta’s universal and continuing appeal was summarised by the face-off on the front row: Mrs Kissinger opposite Taylor Swift, both wearing the label.

Peter Copping’s notes talked about honouring legacy as well as starting a new chapter. He succeeded in both aims, albeit quietly and politely.

 

Polite was the word for this debut, models tripping out in delicate high heels with hair neatly coiffed. But there was a gentle but palpable air of change. The decoration was lighter, the mood generally younger. Short hemlines were the most obvious indicator – plenty hovered far above the knee, limiting their respective garments’ appeal but getting the message across. It reminded me of Peter Copping’s final collection as head of Marc Jacobs’ Louis Vuitton studio in 2009, an ode to old-school French chic via Christian Lacroix’s eighties pouf. It made an appearance here, in a Lacroixean shade of absinthe satin.

De la Renta loved a pouf back in pre-crash days of eighties hedonism. He also loved a coquettishly abbreviated hem – but there were also some discernible Copping touches, notably a preponderance of underpinnings on show. Some dresses had their midriffs dissected, dress fabric stripped away to reveal perhaps a waspie pieced into a bodice, or a bralet exposed under transparent lace.

That cross-section dressing made me think of the Manhattan society women Tom Wolfe dubbed the “Social X-Rays,” who were out in force to see what this new boy would do with dear Oscar’s label.

There are plenty of similarities between de la Renta and Copping: just as the former’s European couture training added depth to his distinctly American brand of bandbox chic, so Copping’s time in Paris softened his look. There’s a rare level of refinement here, and Copping is the sort of designer who can stretch the skills of de la Renta’s technicians, when it comes to lace insertions, pin-tucking and embroideries. There was lots of that on show – sometimes, a bit too much, when ribbon embroideries, macrame and beading fought for attention.

The chicest touches were the simplest: the daywear was stellar, knitty tweed coats and blouse over a filmy skirts were brainlessly refined, the sort of old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness polish that looks so fantastic, you wonder why more designers don’t ditch their tricksy stuff and just do that. They don’t because it’s formidably difficult to pull off. They, like the black velvet bows simply knotted at the waist of half a dozen gowns, had a saving grace, an elegant economy.

Peter Copping has begun his new chapter at Oscar de la Renta, for sure. At the moment, the story is continuing as before, as expected. But the handwriting is subtly different. Perhaps surprisingly so. It bodes well for the future.

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