Photo:Courtesy of Cass Bird/Oscar de la Renta; Laura Kim for The Fashionography
On a balmy August night in New York City, the fashion set, ballet devotees, and flower fanatics emerged for a special pop-up event. Of course, the city is an invariable playground of surprise happenings, especially around New York Fashion Week, but none hold a candle to the magic conjured up by the supremely stylish Laura Kim. As the founder of Monse and co-creative director of Oscar de la Renta for the past six years, she’s been at the forefront of the fashion industry for quite some time. Unlike some industry leaders, Kim has an uncanny ability to grow with the times. She has not only created some of the most avant-garde collections and made us want to adopt trends like cutouts, but she has also been a vocal proponent of speaking up against the rising hate crimes against the AAPI community and advocating for the performing arts industry as it continues to grapple with the pandemic.
It only makes sense that her most recent endeavor—a partnership with Fleuriste St-Germain and James Whiteside, principal dancer and choreographer of the American Ballet Theater, to create a flower-inspired cocktail lounge—would be intriguing. After all, how many designers can make florals truly groundbreaking? Ahead, Kim speaks about her most recent pop-up, how the pandemic has changed her relationship with fashion, and the inspiration behind her F/W 21 collections (that you can shop now). If your infatuation with Kim’s work wasn’t already blooming, this interview will plant the seed.
Photo:Courtesy of Cass Bird/Oscar de la Renta; Courtesy of Monse
You’ve been the co-creative director for Oscar de la Renta and the founder of Monse for quite some time. How has working for both brands changed your perspective on the fashion industry?
I like seeing both worlds. When you work at one company, you can forget the needs of different customers. Something that works for the Oscar customer does not work for Monse and vice versa, which helps keep my mind open because I know there is no correct answer for everything.
How has the pandemic changed the way you relate to fashion and the arts?
The time that I spent alone helped remind myself why I love what I do. Prior to the pandemic, [fashion] had become a job to me, and I was becoming exhausted. I had forgotten how much I loved my work. I feel like I have fallen in love with it all over again.
Are there any hobbies or interests that have sustained you throughout the past year? Have they informed or inspired your design process?
I love to cook, read, and work out, all of which I sometimes didn’t have time for before the pandemic. It was such a luxury to be able to have the time to eat well and exercise. Feeling good is one of the most inspiring things to me.
You recently collaborated with Fleuriste St-Germain to create a unique pop-up flower shop and cocktail lounge in New York City. Can you tell us a little bit more about how it came about? What drew you to the project?
I was thrilled when the brand approached me to collaborate on Fleuriste St-Germain. St-Germain has always been a bar-cart staple for me because I love how it elevates cocktails and works with many different ingredients. And Fleuriste St-Germain was just the same, bringing together artists, performers, mixologists, and New Yorkers all in harmony for this experience. I was drawn to the project because it was an exciting platform to discuss the future of the arts and design with a like-minded community. I designed the staff masks, wrapping paper for the floral bouquets, and ballet dancer costumes by Monse, as worn by James Whiteside, my lovely collaborator, during his stunning ballet performances! The designs featured an elderflower print or embroidery to reflect the fresh, handpicked elderflowers that go into each bottle of St-Germain.
I worked with mixologist Earlecia Richelle from St-Germain to create the Rosé Spritz cocktail being served, an aromatic spritzer inspired by my heritage and love of East Asian flavors and flowers. I paired elderflower liqueur with sparkling yuzu, strawberry-infused rosé wine, and cherry blossom ice cubes. Then, James and I also hosted a questionnaire inspired by Proust. We learned a lot about each other, and it was a cool way to encourage greater connection! Overall, it was exciting to work with James and the St-Germain team to bring people together again in a safe, fun way and add a dash of inspiration to their summer weekend. This experience has left me very inspired.
From dealing with the pandemic to America’s ongoing racial reckoning, the industry has undergone massive changes over the past two years. Where do you think we go from here? What do you envision next for the future of fashion?
I think that this past year and a half has opened our eyes to many issues. My hope is we can begin to be more responsible and respectful to others and the environment and world we live in.
You’ve been incredibly outspoken about combating the widespread increase in anti-Asian and xenophobic rhetoric and hate crimes. What role do you think the fashion industry should have in continuing to address it?
The fashion industry can reach so many different groups, and a topic like this takes time to make needed changes. It is crucial to spread awareness so we can educate and make progress. I think the fashion industry can help promote and spread that awareness.
Photo:Courtesy of Cass Bird/Oscar de la Renta; Courtesy of Monse
As a designer, you’re dictating what’s stylish. How do you decide on the collection’s focus? Do trends play a role in your design process at all?
I always create what looks new to my eyes, not necessarily what is “stylish.”
Are there any trends from your collections or colleagues that you’re excited about for fall?
I’m excited about florals as a trend, which feature throughout my collections this fall. This was another reason I was so excited to work on the recent flower shop collaboration for Fleuriste St-Germain, as I love flowers!
Can you tell us about your F/W 21 collections for Oscar de la Renta? What was the inspiration behind them? Are there any hero pieces that you recommend shopping for fall?
For the Oscar collections, we wanted to look back at the natural beauty of last summer, taking the pressed flowers we had done during the summer months and using them to create prints and embroideries.
“I love this look! It reminds me of the pressed flowers I find in my notebook after summer. The transparency and colors are my favorite details.”
Can you tell us about your F/W 21 collections for Monse? What was the inspiration behind them? Are there any hero pieces that you recommend shopping for fall?
The Monse F/W 21 collection was inspired by the Gossip Girl reboot, so we went back to “high school” for this collection.
“An oversize sweater with leggings is a fall staple, and I love how we updated the season with this look. It’s perfect for every day with a bit of an attitude.”
Are there any trends or pieces that you’re personally shopping for this fall?
I love the lace-up leather moto jacket from Monse’s last collection. It’s a cool update to a closet staple.
What’s one thing you think most people don’t know about when it comes to designing a new collection for fashion week?
The hours of work that go into creating a new collection. We work months out!
With fashion week in full swing, can you give us any hints on what we can expect from your S/S 22 collections or projects you’re working on next?
For Monse, we are showing our Resort 22 collection. We want to show collections that will hit the stores very soon. With Oscar, we are presenting spring/summer 2022 and showing more florals with a twist in the prints and embroidery.
The raw hem on this wool sweater is the embodiment of a cool NYC girl.
Kim’s love for florals is clearly showing with this peplum dress.
This dress is giving Constance Billard vibes, and we love it.
Have you ever seen more beautiful hoop earrings?
If the theatre has reopened near you, this is the dress to wear to that show.
The embroidered and sequinned sunflower detail on this shift dress is out of this world.
Kim is known for taking your essential wardrobe pieces and reworking them. Case in point: this drawstring plaid trench coat.
BRB, we’re dreaming of wearing this dress to Positano, Italy.
Whether you live in Manhattan or Minnesota, these boots are perfect for the winter ahead.
Leave it to Kim to design the most unique patchwork top we’ve ever seen.
We need Olivia Rodrigo to wear this sweater ASAP.
Not to be dramatic, but we were astounded when we saw the embroidered detail on this wool cardigan.
Pleats are back for fall, but this NYC-inspired skirt takes the trend to another level.
A floral bustier? That’s unique.
Everything about this sweater is perfection—the cutout, the fit, the two tones.