As the creatives behind both Monse and Oscar de la Renta, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia are among the busiest, most buzzed-about characters in the fashion world. Best of all? They’ve managed to remain best friends. At Monse HQ in Tribeca, they reveal why it all works.
You launched Monse for Spring 2016, and later that year, you returned to Oscar de la Renta as creative directors. Are you happy with where things have landed?
Laura Kim: Starting last fall, we really found what we want to be at Oscar. At Monse, we always knew what we wanted to be. [Laughs]
Fernando Garcia: It took this amount of time for both teams to understand the vision, and grow into their own respective roles in the companies. Now, we can hit the ground running, and the collections have reflected a sense of security, growth.… It all came to fruition this year.
In our industry, there’s so much pressure to have a defined vision — for everything to be perfect — right out of the gate.
Kim: Getting your team together takes a good year and a half. And when you sell your first collection, it takes about a year until you can really see the whole selling season and get good feedback. I really thought we could do it right away, because we’d been at Oscar before, but it really took a year and a half.
When you saw those reports, which pieces were really resonating at retail?
Garcia: For Monse, the knitwear.
Kim: We didn’t really know how to design knits at first, but we got lucky! [Laughs] We have really good manufacturers, and that’s a huge part of the process.
And how has the Oscar customer evolved?
Garcia: We’re introducing new types of items into her closet, like suiting, denim, and evening tops. We’re educating her further about how to expand her closet. Our client has been there since we returned, and now we’re focused on giving her things from the house that she hasn’t had before.
Kim: It’s much softer — the clothes got lighter, too. We make sure that the fabric doesn’t wrinkle too easily. Women are traveling more now.
You have your hands in a storied American fashion brand, as well as an exciting new one. What are your best insights into how people are shopping these days?
Garcia: They want things that they don’t already own, which is how we began Monse. We didn’t think that the shirtdress was tapped into enough at the time, so we deconstructed shirts. It’s all about having the right price point for something interesting that you don’t already have in your closet — it could be Chanel, it could be Gap.
Kim: We’re seeing that the special things are selling faster than the cheaper things.
How do you divide your responsibilities — and your time — these days?
Garcia: We meet at the beginning of the season and at the end of the season. [Laughs]
Kim: And we meet in the middle to argue a little bit. [Laughs]
Garcia: No, we first look at the calendar for fabrics. And by “we,” I mean Laura. Then we start brainstorming about what worked well from the previous collections, and then we meet with our CEOs — Renee [Prince Fillip] at Monse, and Alex [Bolen] at Oscar — to get feedback from the buyers. Based on that, we start brainstorming with our team about what is new and exciting for them, and how we evolve the brand — making it more grown-up and new every time. Then we start draping and cutting up vintages and creating new ideas out of that.
Fernando, what is Laura’s biggest strength?
Garcia: Her ability to manage the team. It’s quite difficult.
Kim: Not everyone is always happy, but I try! I’ve realized that you have to dance with creative people. Everyone is different, but I try to understand when they can’t function for a couple of days after they’ve had some criticism.
Do you relate to that, as a creative yourself?
Kim: I really don’t.
Garcia: When you went through the school that we went through… we’re both quite egoless most of the time.
Laura, what is Fernando’s greatest strength?
Kim: He has many, but he’s very easygoing, which helps, because I’m not. When I get upset, he smooths everything over and moves things forward.
Garcia: She doesn’t show [stress] to the team, but she shows it to me. I’m happy to share the load.
You’ve worked together for such a long time. What do you fight about?
Garcia: Fewer things nowadays, now that we know what we want to get out of these two amazing jobs that we have. We may bicker about the direction the collection could go in, or staffing issues, but nothing big.
Not even lunch orders?
Kim: No. [Laughs] He eats whatever I order.
Garcia: I’m easy with food, but not with hotels. I really love hotels!
You created an incredible Oscar de la Renta dress for Regina King to wear at the Academy Awards. How did that come together?
Garcia: We just love her. When I saw the film [If Beale Street Could Talk], I knew it would be an exciting year, and I wanted to be a part of that year with her. I started harassing [King’s stylists] Wayman [Bannerman] and Micah [McDonald] through Instagram — I slide into DMs left and right when I feel passionate about something. I was pretty sure I was late to the game, but I kept asking, and asking, and asking….
Whose DMs are you sliding into these days?
Garcia: We’ll see come Met Gala!
Kim: That’s how you met your boyfriend!
Garcia: He slid into mine, I have to say.
What was his pickup line?
Garcia: “Were you walking through the West Village at 10:30 in the morning wearing a navy outfit?” My reply, after seeing his pictures and making sure he was cute, was, “Creepy, but yes.”
What do you want to see happen with Monse and Oscar in the next year?
Kim: We didn’t want Monse to grow too fast, because we have another job, and we don’t want an investor right now — we want to keep it small. But I want it to stay special. Eventually, we have to build it out to make it into more of a merchandised line. For Oscar, we finally got it to where we want it to be, but we are continually pushing it to be fresher. It’s an older brand, and it’s for older customers. It’s actually a real fight to push things forward. There are like 100 people there who have been working there for 40 years, and even if it’s a new cut, they’ll fit it like an old one. It’s a constant battle, but it’s moving in the right direction.
What’s your relationship like with Alex Bolen?
Garcia: We admire him.
Kim: He’s more like a friend than a boss.
Garcia: He treats us like family and we fight like family. We go fearlessly toward a goal like family — something that can’t be said of a CEO who hasn’t known us for a long time. He lets us do what we feel passionately about, and he knows our core values.
Let’s end with a brief version of The Newlywed Game — we’ll ask you some trivia questions about each other. First, if it’s a Saturday night, and you’re not working…
Kim: He’s out partying.
Garcia: Probably. And she’s probably texting me while I’m out, telling me that she’s home with a glass of champagne.
Kim: Totally. I went out with Fernando and his friends on Saturday, and I came home and said, “What was that? I should have stayed home.”
How do you deal with stress?
Kim: He talks to his best friend.
Garcia: She yells at me.
Kim: It’s true!
If you weren’t working in fashion…
Kim: Fernando would be working in movies.
Garcia: The reason I’m in fashion is because I was watching movies with my mom growing up. Laura would be a chef or a children’s book author.
Laura, how did you get into cooking?
Kim: When I was growing up, my mom made me do my homework while she was cooking, so I grew up watching her. I can pretty much make anything.
Who do you cook for?
Kim: Usually Fernando. [Laughs] He’s so easy with food — he eats anything. Honestly, with girlfriends, they don’t eat!
Garcia: Her breakfasts are so good. Her blueberry pancakes, these interesting egg concoctions.… It’s never just sunny-side up. It’s very complicated.