Designers Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia have been working together for almost a decade. After a brief hiatus from Oscar de la Renta to launch their own brand Monse in the Spring of 2015, they are now back at ODLR as co-creative directors. Here we take a peek inside their unique partnership and learn what it takes to run not one, but two successful fashion lines.
BY PHOEBE DE CROISSET
PHOEBE DE CROISSET Tell us about how you and Laura met.
FERNANDO GARCIA Laura and I met at Oscar de la Renta. She had already been there 6 years before I came along. I think Oscar hired me because he knew we would work well together. He had a gut reaction about it. He always had very good gut reactions. So it was very lucky for us because it was a very small team, and it worked from day one.
PC And how was Monse born?
FG We’d been working together 6 years before thinking about launching Monse. I think it was born out of a desire to figure out who we were outside of that company, outside of a big corporation, and discover what kind of clothes we would do outside of that brilliantly and perfectly defined DNA.
PC You took a big leap going out on your own, and in such a competitive market. What convinced you it was the right move?
FG Laura has much more experience in the field than I do. I was much more hesitant. She was mentally prepared for it, and I just jumped on the boat with her. We went for it. But we went for it in a way that would be easier for buyers to understand the brand from day one. We looked at the market and thought, what is missing from BG, from Neiman’s? What are the floors saturated with? Is it too feminine, is it too masculine? We tried to strike a balance and made the looks feminine and masculine and effortlessly elegant… and hoped for the best.
PC Although the feel of the line is different, younger, more modern, the craftsmanship and quality of the details on each piece is remarkable. There is a structure to each piece – is that something you took with you from ODLR?
FG I didn’t realize that until I started seeing the bills from the factory! (laughs) Because the finishing quality that we are used to is something that, as you mention, you can really see. Even though the clothes look effortless, that they are finished in the best way Italian hands know how to finish.
PC Is that something that you will keep going forward?
FG People have reacted really well to it, and have called it out many times, even though we didn’t realize how important it was to them and how unusual it is to have really well finished clothes. Oscar spoiled us. We don’t know any different.
PC What are your hopes for the future of the Monse brand?
LK We would love to open a boutique sometime in the next 5 years, ad to continue our dream of designing and producing luxury clothing with a sustainable focus. Our ultimate hope is to give back to others one day.
PC After less than two years since your departure from ODLR, you are now back as co-creative directors. With everything on your plate, how do you split your time?
FG Alex Bolen (CEO of ODLR) has invested a lot of trust in us throughout the years. That allows for flexibility in our day to day activities. One week we might be more Monse-focused, one week it might be more ODLR.
PC Can you talk to us about your design process? Do you ever disagree?
FG The designs we’re not happy with, when either Laura likes it, or I like it, usually die, I think because they’re not strong enough to be in the line. I think the combination of our ideas makes anything we design stronger.
PC You seem to have a real understanding of the critical relationship between art and commerce. That said, do you ever feel you are making creative sacrifices for the sake of commerce?
FG It’s a business, you know? It’s not a sacrifice if you are going to be selling it at the end of the day. We make sure that there are pieces that really highlight what we want to say that season, and we are going into it knowing that those are the pieces that might not be big sellers but they become the glue that connects everything together and convinces buyers and editors and stylists about our vision. We get just as excited about a very well-designed commercial piece as a very out-there editorial one.
PC What is your first memory of clothing from childhood? The moment you realized you loved clothes?
FG Whenever my family would go to a wedding or big events back home, I would always critique what my mother and sisters wore and it became a habit for them to check with me first. And after that, because I watched movies so much, my mom and I watched the red carpets (of awards shows). I saw what Tom Ford was doing in the 90s and how he changed the industry, and then I became addicted.
PC Growing up, who had the most influence on your style? Who was your style icon?
FG I don’t have a personal style icon. I am a very sloppy dresser. Oscar would have told you that. But for women, I have always looked up to the Gainsbourg sisters. I love the influence Carine Roitfeld had over the industry. And seeing hardworking women highlighted in the pages of Vogue encouraged me to design for that woman, and not just models or actresses. What Sarah Ruston wears everyday is vey inspiring to us. It’s elegant enough, wearable enough, edgy enough. That’s today’s reality. Nobody wants to look overly done up. She strikes the right balance for a working woman.
The combination of our ideas makes anything we design stronger.
PC What was your most embarrassing style phase?
LK I went through an urban hip-hop moment. And I loved it!
FG Von Dutch hats. I was rocking those at the end of high school. They were very expensive, like $200 per hat, and I had a collection of about 5 or 6 of them. I had a gingham one, a denim one… I thought I was the envy of many, but I was probably being laughed at more than being envied.
PC When did you realize you wanted to design clothing?
LK At the age of 3. I grew up learning the basics of sewing, patternmaking and sketching. I inherited a critical eye for details from my grandmother, a retired textile manufacturer.
PC If you could give your 18-year old self a word of advice, what would it be?
FG Be patient. Work hard. That’s about it.
LK Work hard and be smart. Create your own rules that work for you.
PC What do you think is the most important lesson to learn in this business?
LK Be open to change and keep moving forward.
PC What was the best advice you ever received?
FG Oscar’s. He would say listen to others. They have experience and they know what they are talking about and everybody’s point of view is valid.
LK Work hard and don’t complain!