Possibly, it seems ridiculous to begin a fashion show review with a discussion about the precisely desirable color of a carnation. Yet it is a fact that there is a vast gulf of taste between a deli-cum-gas-station pink or white type of a carnation, and the deep, deep, almost cinnamon-dark kind of a red carnation, which Oscar de la Rentapicked for his daily buttonhole when he was a young man living in Madrid. But the fact that Peter Copping, Oscar’s successor, picked up on that color, and its resonances, is a perfect testament to his suitability for the job. He, like Oscar, has a phenomenal eye for color and social tone.
“Apparently,” said Copping before the show, “they used to throw red carnations into the ring after a bull fight.” Which explains the presence of carnation prints in various sizes that Copping scattered on dresses, swathed skirts, and frilled blouses, and the fact that he saturated an eyelet dress in the color of Oscar’s favorite flower.
Copping was partially inspired by his discovery that De la Renta had met Ava Gardner, whose lover was a bullfighter, in the 1950s. But to research the Spring collection, he had also been up to the Hispanic Society of Harlem to look at their paintings surrounding bullfighting—he took in everything from the pale blue satin of a matador suit painted by Goya, to the exact shade of baked yellow Francis Bacon used in a bullfighting scene, to “the colors of peasant wool embroidery on popular Spanish postcards,” said Copping. Then he let it all percolate in his imagination, and came up with a collection that thoroughly proved his own powers as a colorist, and as a designer who brings the finesse of Paris with him from all the years he worked at Louis Vuitton and Nina Ricci.
The combination of respectfulness for the founder and pure personal flair made for a collection that succeeded in making every woman present at the show want to be part of Copping’s ravishing modern view of femininity and sexuality. The sight of his models, scrubbed and groomed with matte red lipstick, their hair brushed smoothly into ponytails with low grosgrain ribbon bows, made fashion’s prevailing messy no-makeup grungy beauty suddenly look a whole lot less desirable at a stroke. It was not just a question of the breathtaking color choices, which ran from saturated to pastel—say, emerald green duchesse satin for a skirt suit with a narrow powder pink belt, or the grass green embroidered shoes under a mint gazar dress—but also of Copping’s ability to undercut froth and frills with a modernizing casualness. He did that by putting suits with jet-embroidered flat espadrilles, by tying black ribbons nonchalantly into incredible lilac and ice-blue ball gowns, and by daring to show glimpses of naked skin through black lace. In a word, it was faultless.