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Meet the designer duo behind Oscar De La Renta and Monse

Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, former assistants of Oscar de la Renta (ODLR), have proven to be the perfect formula for a youthful take on de la Renta’s legacy in suiting and evening wear. In 2015, the New York-based designer duo branched out to make a name for themselves by founding the label Monse, a destination for accomplished women who love fashion statements of deconstructed “cool-luxury” pieces. It is no surprise that the ODLR fashion house brought them back as creative directors two years later. 
Korean-born Kim and Dominican-born Garcia keep driving both brands to stellar success, expertly blending their design imperatives of “comfort first” (Kim) and “fantasy first” (Garcia) with high craftsmanship. Editors, celebrities and elite red carpet stylists keep flocking around this thirty-something duo, who seem to always get it right between the offering of Monse’s modern asymmetry and de la Renta’s glamour (not to mention a recent call from Dr. Jill Biden, who purchased their ODLR floral asymmetric dress for the night of her husband’s victory speech as the 46 President of the United States of America). In an exclusive interview for Vogue CS, I chatted with Laura and Fernando on the latest Monse collection and what it takes to pull off the creative direction of two fashion houses simultaneously.
You were mentored by Oscar de la Renta himself. How did you get to founding Monse?
LK: We worked with Oscar as his assistants for a number of years. At some point, we thought that before it’s too late we, too, want to figure out who we are as designers and becoming “ourselves.”
FG: When Oscar was still alive, we were thinking about what was missing in the market. We wanted to fill the void. Laura started to deconstruct garments that felt familiar to women, like the shirt dress, that maybe at the time was not exciting. We wanted to give it a new look; it needed to be re-imagined. We made it exciting again.
Talk about opposites attract! Laura, you are known for “comfort before everything.” Fernando, you are all about fantasy. How do you get to agree day to day and give creative direction to two fashion houses at once?   
LK: We feel quite lucky because we spend a lot of time together at work, but also of duty during our personal time. We meet for breakfast, then in the restaurant after work. We work out together. We are always honest with each other about work, life, and things that we don’t want to hear from someone else.
FG: We consider ourselves fortunate that we have someone we trust creatively and personally, to be able to build something together and grow in such a chaotic city as New York. And, we are compatible in the way we work. We both like receiving constructive criticism. We were raised that way by Oscar, who was very open to listening to the opinions of others, so it became second nature to us. We always look forward to hearing from one another in what way we can improve our garments.
How does the conflict get resolved when you don’t agree?
FG: That is a great question! (laugh). When one of us doesn’t love what the other one is working on, we don’t put the piece to the center and front of the collection. We focus on other designs outside this one and look at them later.
LK: We give each other time to think about it, but if at the end of work on the collection it still does not feel and look right, we take it out and we ask the team. It’s very much like in a democratic system – if the president is not on board then the Senate has to decide.
Foto: ODLR
Laura Kim a Fernando Garcia
Who is the Monse woman?
LK: She is not a gala girl. She has a real job; she is hardworking and she loves going out to dinners, cocktail parties. FG: Monse was always about the stylish, hardworking women around us; women we personally know, women that support us. Since the time we started, Sarah Rutson, head of Net-a-Porter, or a chic stylist as Kate Young, was our inspiration source. Cool, successful, professional women.
LK: That is confident to step out in something weird ( laugh). We are gravitating to opinionated people with strong personalities and with a point of view.
Sarah Jessica Parker, Selena Gomez, Amal Clooney, Blake Lively, and Nicky Hilton have been frequently seen sporting Monse pieces
FG: Since the early stages, we were fortunate to be surrounded by a few key people that helped us to build the brand and create awareness. We are eternally loyal and grateful to Sarah Jessica Parker and Selena Gomez for their enduring support. They took the brand’s name and put it on the map. But we are not seeking out people that one would idolize dressing. Monse has been always attracting successful accomplished women organically. It is a very specific look and women have to love it. Once they fall in love, they stick around.
How do you separate out the thought process and inspirations between Oscar de la Renta and Monse?
LK: it is actually quite easy because there is no overlap between the two brands. We founded Monse’s DNA to be completely different from Oscar’s, so for us, the division, even in our minds, is very clear. And honestly, as a woman, I need both in my life.
What inspires your collections? 
FG: We start every collection by asking ourselves, “What is on the market that is not exciting or needs reinvention?” Our collections are piece driven. We may sometimes gravitate to a print or fabric story that makes it somewhat of a theme but the bases of the collection are never a theme.
LK: We are exposed to so many things every day, so a collection can’t be one story – it has to be a mix. We look at the piece, deconstruct it. That idea inspires the rest of the look and every piece within the collection. It is about how interesting we can make that one jacket and about why a woman would want to invest in it one more time.
Foto: ODLR
Foto: Monse
Foto: Monse
Where in Europe can women get Monse?
LK: Globally we do great online. That’s how we started the brand – it was always supposed to be photographed and sold online. It’s visually striking in pictures. European women can shop Monse on Net-a-Porter, but we also have a couple of stores in fashion capitals, Paris and Milan.
We are in the middle of a pandemic. Did your creative work evolve in any way?
FG: The pandemic made us (for both brands) reanalyze where we can be going and what to leave behind. In ODLR we were able to discover different product categories. Though evening gowns are our bread and butter, we started to explore other versions of evening wear. For instance, we tapped into the kaftan category. The pandemic gave us much-needed pause to reconfigure, redirect, and become more efficient.
LK: Same for Monse. We needed to update ourselves to stay relevant. The most important it is to keep your mind open, look around to be aware of what is going on in a changing environment, and respond to it. This is how you move the brand forward.
At the last New York Fashion Week, you had a unique shoppable show on the rooftop of Spring Studios. Even your designer friends, such as Phillip Lim and Prabal Gurung, dropped by to grab a piece. What are your favorite looks?
LK: Fall/Winter 2020 actually is my favorite collection for Monse overall. It brings a great balance for fashion-forward clients. It was punk-inspired and is in stores now.
FG: My favorite piece is our classic belted trench coat with plaid shoulders up and our knit category is a lot of fun, too! I love the yellow plain knit top with a deconstructed plaid skirt. That’s very Monse does Clueless – does punk. For us to do punk was a huge dichotomy because we are not grungy. We are happy, silly, optimistic people (laugh). So, we pushed the envelope to what we consider punk and it worked out great!