NEW YORK — Designers are always trying to appeal to a younger audience, but Oscar de la Renta has gone to new extremes. The iconic designer has launched a new children's collection and showcased it for the first time in a runway show before an unusually attentive audience in his midtown Manhattan showroom during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Front row at a fashion show can be a harrowing place to sit as hordes of paparazzi vie to get their shot and grumpy publicists shoo onlookers away. But this show had a much happier vibe as celebrities like Mariska Hargitay and her 17-month-old daughter, Amaya (both dressed in Oscar), and Lucky magazine executive fashion editor and Houston native Alexis Bryan Morgan, with her children, 3-1/2-year old Ada and 18-month-old Freya, looked on from the front row.
Surprisingly, nobody squirmed, perhaps because there was so much going on on the runway.
Surprisingly, nobody squirmed, perhaps because there was so much going on on the runway. Kids glided by on scooters or toted skateboards. One young gent wore headphones as he strolled down the catwalk like a seasoned pro. And one "older" model — they ranged in age from 3 to 8 — pulled a wagon painted in a blue petal design that carried a "younger" model with a matching red dress.
The collection features print cotton dresses, crocheted jackets and scalloped shorts for girls, and cotton blazers, plaid shorts and striped polos for boys. The pièce-de-résistance of every grown-up de la Renta collection is the eye-popping formal wear; the children's version had its own showstoppers in a series of floral and lace party dresses that closed the show.
Afterwards de la Renta was surrounded by his young models, who seemed delighted at their first runway experience. He explained that he offered children's wear "many years ago" and recently revived the line, with a small spring collection this year. "We started using some of our leftover fabric (from the womens collection) and started making dresses and selling them. And I said, 'Why not?' So we started doing it again. And we've been very successful."
The collection expanded into a full-scale runway collection for next spring, designed by Catherine Monteiro de Barros, founder of the high-end Portuguese children's line Papo d'Anjo. Party dresses retail for around $350 and a sundress costs less than $100, not cheap but less than other children's collections from such high fashion designers.
"It's a distinct vision — sort of the White House 1960s. Not that many people are out there paying attention to what children should look like in a simple, old-fashioned way but without being old-fashioned."
"It's a distinct vision — sort of the White House 1960s. Not that many people are out there paying attention to what children should look like in a simple, old-fashioned way but without being old-fashioned — having a contemporary twist," said de Barros, who became de la Renta's design director for children's wear late last year.
"We're trying to keep things classic and retain the sense of childhood — not being so much fashion forward as some of the other brands out there. We're really paying attention to what we think that children should be wearing. And the quality is unparalleled."
De Barros works closely with de la Renta on selecting fabrics, including some of the women's ready-to-wear fabrics that are more "child friendly," designing the collection and editing it down to a cohesive collection.
"For me he's the best. To be able to be associated with one of the greatest, it's a huge privilege. And it's fun to see the enthusiasm on his face when he sees beautiful clothing as it's all made up."
Backstage after the show, Hargitay was enthusiastically perusing the collection. "Look at these colors," she said. "This is sort of rocking my world right here. All I can think of is this one and that one and we're done. And just keep it on her for a year. They're so vibrant and fun and playful and happy."
The Oscar de la Renta children's collection will be available at a trunk show at a private Houston residence on Sept. 25 and 26 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sept. 27 from 9 a.m. - noon. For more information, call 713-882-0052.