When I set out to launch Cho & Tell a month ago — it’s been a month already! — I made it my business to do a deep dive into my Rolodex and reach out to the people I know… but don’t really know.
Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, the phenom co-creative directors of Oscar de la Renta and Monse, definitely fit in that category.
Boy, did I learn a lot!
Over cocktails in the West Village, we covered it all… from how they got their start in fashion… to their memories of the late, great Oscar de la Renta… to working together and fighting every day… to the biggest surprise of all — for me, at least — how I was an inspiration to them. What?
ALINA CHO: When did you know you wanted to be a fashion designer?
LAURA KIM: So, my grandparents on my mom's side, they were in textiles, and they were always babysitting me, and my grandma would make me stuff. She’d take me to fabric markets, that was our hangout. So, it was kind-of really natural how it happened. I never wanted to be anything other than work in fashion.
FERNANDO GARCIA: I mean, I never thought fashion would be a career growing up in the Dominican Republic. It wasn't considered a career there, at the time. Now, it's a lot different.
ALINA CHO: It's interesting because, as the story goes… you're from the Dominican Republic, Oscar [de la Renta] is from the Dominican Republic…
FERNANDO GARCIA: I mean, he was considered a God, and I knew that that was something aspirational to want to become.
ALINA CHO: So, you knew that, growing up?
FERNANDO GARCIA: I knew that I loved the film industry, and my mother got me addicted to watching red carpets. And so, I dove deep into understanding who Tom [Ford], who John [Galliano], who Alber [Elbaz]… all these amazing, talented people that, in the nineties, I started to pay attention to. And so, I just simply fell in love with that world. And when I applied for schools, I was too scared to apply for fashion schools. So, I went to the best schools I could get into, period, and the best school I could get into was Notre Dame.
ALINA CHO: And then you [speaking to Laura] started as an intern, right, at Oscar?
LAURA KIM: Yeah. So that was 2003. And then I started working there full-time, 2004.
FERNANDO GARCIA: I think it was 2009, I graduated from Notre Dame, and I came literally straight from Notre Dame to New York City.
ALINA CHO: And you were Laura's intern?
FERNANDO GARCIA: Yeah. I still am Laura's intern.
LAURA KIM: He interviewed with Oscar, and Oscar called me, and he said, "There's a boy coming from Notre Dame. You'll like him. Like, he can be your intern." I was like, "Okay, there's a guy coming from the church, in Paris?" I was like, "What the hell is this?"
ALINA CHO: You became co-creative directors [of Oscar de la Renta] in 2016…
FERNANDO GARCIA: From the get-go, we established a level of respect for each other, and because of that level of respect, we were able to have very blunt, almost aggressively honest conversations towards our work.
ALINA CHO: How so?
FERNANDO GARCIA: If I showed her a gown idea, she told me how to improve it. If she showed me a print idea, I’d figure out ways for the Latinos of the world to find it cool, or whatever, you know? So, we just became indispensable to each other.
ALINA CHO: Some people might think, it's such a creative process, how do you share that?
FERNANDO GARCIA: Trust. You just need to have trust.
LAURA KIM: I think also, I'm ambitious. I know what's not my forte and I'm like, "I need that guy to help me."
FERNANDO GARCIA: And that's what a lot of egocentric designers don't understand, the benefit of having somebody tell you constructive criticism. It only betters your work.
ALINA CHO: So how often do you fight?
FERNANDO GARCIA: Every day.
ALINA CHO: And who wins?
LAURA KIM: Well, I like to I think I win… but then you [Fernando] still continue with whatever we fought about, so I guess I didn't win?
FERNANDO GARCIA: What's the expression? Happy wife, happy life?
ALINA CHO: Can we talk about Oscar? How do you explain what made him so special and what makes his name so indelible in fashion?
FERNANDO GARCIA: I think that for us, our experience, it was an incredible amount of inclusivity in the office. Everybody was from a different walk of life. So, all the opinions felt very eclectic and necessary to create a better product. I found it incredible that an 83-year-old fashion legend cared what 20-something-year-old kids will say…
ALINA CHO: He wanted to hear from everyone.
LAURA KIM: And he would listen.
FERNANDO GARCIA: I mean, the more I grow in this industry, the more I find it to be extremely rare to see people of that caliber care what a girl who grew up in Seoul and Canada [Laura], and a boy who grew up in [the Dominican Republic — me — had to say].
ALINA CHO: But what about in fashion? Because his name is uttered in such rarefied air, right?
FERNANDO GARCIA: I think the one thing that Laura and I felt intimidated about when we were offered to do the job [as co-creative directors], was not necessarily replicating or continuing the legacy in his style. It was about the man, himself. What he created on a personal level with his clients and best friends, and the fashion industry, was a level of warmth that didn't exist with anybody else. Everybody that still runs into us and says, "I knew Oscar," they say it with such affection.
ALINA CHO: He was so special.
FERNANDO GARCIA: Replacing the person was more intimidating for us than replacing the designer.
ALINA CHO: I want to talk about your biggest celebrity moments.
FERNANDO GARCIA: Meghan [Duchess of Sussex] has remained a very big supporter…
ALINA CHO: She had a big moment where she wore you, not too long ago, right?
LAURA KIM: The lemon dress…
FERNANDO GARCIA: … when she announced she was pregnant. She’s definitely a major presence in the fashion world, so we love her support. And Celine Dion was great.
ALINA CHO: Wait, what did you dress…
LAURA KIM: We did her for the Met Gala .
ALINA CHO: That was major.
LAURA KIM: I think my biggest celebrity moment is coming up [for the upcoming Met Gala in September].
ALINA CHO: Give me a hint, give me a hint.
LAURA KIM: I have signed my life away. I respect this person a lot…
ALINA CHO: Yeah. But it’s not me. [Everyone laughs]
LAURA KIM: When we were starting Monse [our other brand], Fernando was trying to get to you.
ALINA CHO: You were? I didn’t know that.
LAURA KIM: He's like, "I want to dress this lady."
ALINA CHO: No way, I’m so flattered. But then, you know I started wearing it. I just started buying it. Did you know that?
FERNANDO GARCIA: Of course, we know that.
LAURA KIM: We had like five women who we thought we would like Monse to be, like working, successful, fashionable [women]. And you were one of them. So, Fernando was stalking you, trying to meet you.
ALINA CHO: Do you know how many Monse dresses I have?
FERNANDO GARCIA: That’s amazing, thank you. Our CEO thanks you.
ALINA CHO: So, I think the only other thing I wanted to talk to you about was the fact that you [Fernando] were a child model.
FERNANDO GARCIA: Did you talk to Alex [Bolen, CEO of Oscar de la Renta] before this?
ALINA CHO: No, I read it. I swear, I read it.
FERNANDO GARCIA: He makes fun of me for that, every day.
ALINA CHO: You were a child model for Jacadi.
FERNANDO GARCIA: Yeah. Do you know that brand?
ALINA CHO: Yes, of course, I know that brand.
FERNANDO GARCIA: It was just one time.
ALINA CHO: But you could’ve had a career as a model.
FERNANDO GARCIA: Oh, my God. You’re very sweet. Thank you.