The Oscar de la Renta alums behind Monse prepare for their second act at Fashion Week.
at happens to a designer—or, as in the case of six-month-old Monse’s Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, two designers—after you leave Oscar de la Renta, launch a brand, and get rave reviews from fashion critics and editors for your very first collection? And before you even stage that New York Fashion Week show, Sarah Jessica Parker and Amal Clooney—women whose sophisticated seals of approval register far beyond the scope of the fashion world—are seen wearing your clothing? At a moment when the fashion industry is just as eager to hand out trophies to new designers as it is to subject them to a demanding fashion calendar, how will Monse live up to the standards its designers have set for themselves?
“Honestly, more than that, we just want to not let down the people who supported us from day one,” says Garcia, ticking off a name of A-list styling and buying talent. Those are friends and contacts Garcia and Kim made while working in de la Renta's design studio, which they left several months after the designer died in October 2014. “Like the Sarah Rutsons, the Kate Youngs, Cristina Ehrlich—all these people who believed in us from day one. So that’s who I’m most worried about impressing…. Those are the ones that I really want to make happy.” He adds that that’s “more [important] than the hype that’s happened afterwards, which we did not plan for, but it’s very flattering, and we hope that continues.”
Monse may not even be in stores—the loopy time frame of Fashion Week means the terrific collection they showed in September will start appearing in stores over the next few weeks—but they're already serving visiting reporters coffee in cups monogrammed with the brand’s name. Their deconstructed plays on the classic white shirt—already a signature—have been worn on the red carpet by Sienna Miller, Allison Williams, Jaime King, and other members of Hollywood’s fashion set.
“All of them have a very strong sense of style,” Garcia says, when asked what these women share. “None of them are boring, and they’re all very outspoken and in control of what’s going on in their lives.” That’s certainly true—they take fashion risks, reaching for young, “cool girl” designers Rosie Assoulin and Rosetta Getty, and for
Though they have something else in common: power stylists. Many of Monse’s celebrity fans are advised by women Garcia name-checked early in our conversation, such as Kate Young and Cristina Ehrlich, as well as Micaela Erlanger. In the most extreme circumstances—say, Erlanger’s fashion collaboration with Lupita Nyong’o during the 2014 Academy Awards campaign—a season of excellent red-carpet showings can play a major role in the race for an Oscar. At the very least, such as in the case of Selena Gomez, another Monse fan, it can be a vital force in a public-relations campaign. (Just try to argue that between her latest album and style evolution, Gomez doesn’t seem
But all that is merely good business, not fashion, if the clothing isn’t good—which in Monse’s case, it really is. Kim and Garcia’s ability to riff on an idea is spectacular: their first show saw the white shirt evolve down the runway from its bare bones beginnings, to a tossed-on boyfriend shirt as a skewed-off-the-shoulder cocktail dress, to a clavicle-bearing frock with shirtsleeves cinched drolly across the bodice, to a gala-worthy ball skirt with pajama snaps. The result is something like a distinctly American version of the Japanese designer Chitose Abe’s Sacai: easy to wear but interesting, beckoning examination from different angles, but with a non-aggressive kind of sensuality that makes it inherently cool.
Their time at Oscar de la Renta is evident at every step, too. “He always told us to be really open-minded,” Kim says of the late designer. “I think that really helped us [our] first season, where we went to show a lot of people our sketches, and everyone gave us their honest opinion.” (In fact, Kim messaged Net-a-Porter buyer Sarah Rutson on LinkedIn; it was Rutson who pushed them toward the white shirts.)
As for how Monse will grow, Kim and Garcia are characteristically pragmatic. Kim mentions that a diffusion line and a perfume would give the brand some financial stability. But for this season, they’re focusing on identifying their customer, a woman who is still evolving in their mind.
A few minutes later, they pull out a stretchy glitter fabric that catches the light with an ombre glow, which they are shaping into five-pocket jeans and bodysuits for the collection they will show this week, and which they promise will be very flattering. From just a swatch, it’s hard to tell whether the effect will be competitive suburban ice-skater or freakishly glamorous, but whoever the customer is, she’ll look rich and thin.
- Source: VF Style Photo: Billy Jim/Monse