Fernando García on Oscar de la Renta - Coming Back to Santo Domingo and why Meghan Markle's Mum and Carrie Bradshaw Remain Relevant

Among the fixtures in every “best shows of the season” list for Spring/Summer 2019, you’ll no doubt find the latest Oscar de la Renta collection, an exploration of worldwide travel – from India to Morocco, via Croatia and Mykonos – through louche yet surprisingly comfortable looking clothes. A modernized testimonial to the impeccable style of the Dominican designer, the show was also a sample of the way Laura Kim and Fernando García have been honing their skills in the two years since they took the reins of the brand after the designer’s death in 2014. During this time, the duo has been busy redefining the Oscar de la Renta woman, all the while never losing sight of the brand’s roots. Proof? Fernando García was the special guest in this year’s edition of Dominicana Moda, Santo Domingo’s up-and-coming fashion week. A Dominican himself, Fernando – who started working in fashion at 20 as an intern at ODLR and who today shares his Creative Director job with his position as co-founder, also with Laura Kim, of the hip New Yorker brand Monse – chose the historical Parque Colón, in the capital’s Zona Colonial, to stage an open-air show (of the brand’s latest resort collection) that was visible to the general public, complete with a live orchestra playing Caribbean classics. A few hours earlier, we met with the designer in one of Santo Domingo’s beautiful gardens to discuss his vision for Oscar de la Renta, his relationship with his native country, and what inspires him.

Fernando García and Laura Kim. Photo: Courtesy of Oscar de la Renta. 

I hear you just arrived from Milan?


Yes, but that was a very quick trip, essentially a stopover on my way here from Dubai. It was my first time there, as we are introducing the brand to that market, and I have to say I found the place really moving. The aesthetic mix has something part Vegas-style, part Asian, and part-Mediterranean. And yet, I did feel somewhat at home: there is something Dubai shares with Dominican exuberance. It was really the perfect place to introduce our latest collection, which was all about those destinations.


So, what can we expect from tonight’s show?


A beautiful Santo Domingo setting for our resort collection, which is pretty much hitting stores now and which was inspired by traditional British porcelain.

Oscar de la Renta Resort 2019 show in Santo Domingo. Photo by Amandine Hui Boissy for NOWFASHION. 

Meghan Markle just made a much-talked-about appearance wearing one of the collection’s dresses, didn’t she?


Yes! The collection actually has a very strong bond to her. We were starting to work on it when we got a phone call, and it was her saying she would like us to dress Doria, her mother, on her wedding day. For me to hear her say she had chosen Oscar de la Renta as the one designer that would represent the Americas was an honour, the thought that he was not just a Dominican designer, but an internationally American one too, especially considering all the competition. That was also how we came about the British inspiration, which ended up permeating the whole collection.


That appearance was also proof that classic Oscar de la Renta red carpet dresses are still very much in vogue, even if styles are getting more relaxed.


Times have changed, but sophisticated red carpet dresses are still the ultimate visual identity and advertising form for a house like ours. Especially when celebrities choose to wear them during key moments of their careers without having been paid for it, which proves how deep the emotional connexion between the brand and its clients is.


Still, the more casual looks in the latest few collections have been enthusiastically welcomed by busy millennial women who don’t necessarily identify with over-the-top glamour.


Well, Laura is one of those women. She’s super busy and, like most women, has better things to do with her time than change three times a day. She needs versatile clothes, the kind of look you slip on in the morning and that will carry you until the night. It’s a more recent change than you would think: even ten years ago, things were not like that. But that’s what we believe in, and where we are currently taking the brand. Without, of course, forgetting to add a touch of fantasy.


Your other brand, Monse, is also all about that philosophy. Is that what made you and Laura quit Oscar de la Renta in 2014, and eventually come back two years later?


At the time we wanted to explore new grounds, and it ended up being the best thing we could possibly do. Even if it was extremely difficult to tell Oscar, whose health at the time was unfortunately failing, that we were leaving, if it wasn’t for Monse we would never have been ready for our Creative Director jobs here. We understood Oscar’s DNA, of course, but we had no idea what being at the helm of a team was like. Through Monse we learned that we were responsible for the creativity, spontaneity, and happiness of the people who worked for us. I think that transformed us.


Does it ever feel like a weight upon your shoulders to have to carry the legacy of someone as influential as Oscar?


Not the legacy or the DNA, thank god, because he taught us all that when he was alive. He actually taught me everything I know about fashion. But what I often find challenging these days is to mimic the truly special relationship he had to his clients. There was an emotion to each and every piece of his clothes, and the women wearing them felt it, regardless if they ever met Oscar himself. In an increasingly marketed world, it is more and more difficult to maintain that magic. And yet, to me, it feels more essential than ever. That’s what keeps me awake at night [laughs].

Oscar de la Renta Resort 2019 show in Santo Domingo. Photo by Amandine Hui Boissy for NOWFASHION. 

Does working on ten collections every year not keep you awake at night?


Luckily, we have two very efficient teams as well as two CEOs who have known each other for decades: that makes it super easy to coordinate both brands in an efficient way!


What did you most admire about Oscar?


His will to have fun at work every day, which I think really showed in his dresses. That and the way he listened to everyone, no matter his position or status. He used to say if, as a designer, you are not aware of the culture of the moment, you’ll eventually find yourself at a standstill. And so, he wanted to know everyone’s opinion… Even that of a 20 year-old intern with no experience, which was me when I started. As a designer, he didn’t have any ego. He was very humble.


Do you have a favourite dress among the house’s archives?


Many, but I think the ones that Sarah Jessica Parker wore are my favourite.


Oscar de la Renta Resort 2019 show in Santo Domingo. Photo by Amandine Hui Boissy for NOWFASHION. 

There was a whole episode dedicated to Oscar de la Renta on Sex and The City, and that unforgettable pink dress…

Yes. To me it was all about the way Carrie/Sarah Jessica made the clothes hers. Before her character, women could easily be scared of the brand and the presence of its dresses, but she managed to completely revolutionize it, making it simply fun, creative, and a reflection of her personality. Clothes never wear Sarah Jessica: she very much wears them. Even with that pink dress, the way she and Patricia Field decided to pair it with that ivory-lined black jacket transformed it. It might seem fleeting, but it was a decisive moment for our house.