Most designers would be outraged if nude protestors stormed the runway during the middle of their show. But when two topless women from an Ukrainian feminist group crashed the Nina Ricci show last month in Paris and had to be carried off the catwalk by security officers, Peter Copping took it all in stride.
"We've never ended up on the cover of the Daily Mail before," quipped Copping, a British designer who has breathed new life into the fabled French fashion house.
Since joining Nina Ricci a little more than three years ago, Copping has drawn attention to a label that had more or less fallen off the fashion radar screen by mixing the ethereal sensibility it is known for with couture detailing and at times a toughened-up attitude to add substance and a bit of flair.
For his first Houston visit, Neiman Marcus officials transformed the couture department into a jewel box to showcase the United States debut of the Nina Ricci spring 2014 collection — the very one that was on the Paris runways only a few short weeks ago. "The decor doesn't distract from the clothing," he said approvingly. "It works in harmony."
"Nina Ricci was always a very feminine house, very Parisian. That's still very important. I want to make it true to its roots."
As he sat down for an interview before meeting with Houston customers, I observed Copping's colorful woven loafers, which he purchased at the Bon Marché supermarket in Paris.
"I wore them the day of the (Nina Ricci) fashion show and Anna Wintour, who always comes backstage, said 'I love the shoes.' And I picked one of the shoes the model was wearing. She said, 'No, I mean your shoes.' That was quite a compliment."
For the Texas customer who is not as familiar with the brand, Copping explains it this way: "It is a French house, which was set up by Nina Ricci who, in fact, was Italian. But she lived her life in Paris. It existed from the late 1930s and it was always a very feminine house, very Parisian. That's still very important. I want to make it true to its roots."
Before Copping's arrival, the brand floundered with four designers in the previous decade, including the much ballyhooed Olivier Theyskens, whose designs drew raves from the fashion crowd but didn't translate into big sales.
"I think that one of the things is it feels like a good fit for me to be there," Copping said. "To some extent, I do what comes naturally to me. What's good in that respect is nothing feels too forced. So to do something that feels Parisian and French and feminine just feels natural to me."
Romantic menswear for women
For his spring 2014 collection, Copping looked to, of all things, 18th-century menswear.
"Thinking about how men used to dress, I wanted to go back to a period when they were very feminine and very romantic. So I looked at 18th-century clothing and a lot of that came through in the cuts of the coats and the jackets, the riding coats, where the volume would swing to the back and the shirts with bibs and skirts where the hemline was inspired by shirttails.
"I very much liked the idea of a pale collection and working around different tones of white. And knowing that if I did so much white, I had to be very rich in terms of texture. So the textures range from cotton poplin to wools and tweeds as well and sequins. In some of them you can find (different) fabrics in just one garment, a jacket that combines everything. Lace is very much a signature fabric for the house. It's very feminine and is just a fabric that I always like to use."
The collection took on a more glittery tone with skirts and tops embroidered with mirrors, jackets of golden tweed and gray gowns with pleated chiffon and lace insets.
Learning from Marc Jacobs
Prior to joining Nina Ricci, Copping worked for 12 years as Marc Jacob's top deputy at Vuitton. It was an "incredible experience, " Copping said. "What's great about (Jacobs) is he delegates a lot, so after quite a long period of working together he gave me the pre-collection to design and the cruise collection. And that was something I was responsible for. He even allowed me to be the person who communicated to the press on those collections.
"It really gave me a sense of confidence to realize there was a moment I would be able to move on and take over a (fashion) house."
"It really gave me a sense of confidence to realize there was a moment I would be able to move on and take over a (fashion) house. I also learned a lot about fabrics and really pushing what you do. And constantly posing yourself questions — Is this what I want? Can it still be better? Continuing to push things forward — always."
Jacobs recently left Vuitton, which leads me wonder would Copping be interested in the top job there? "I think to be honest they have someone lined up for that spot," he said. (Nicolas Ghesquière, who previously designed for Balenciaga, is widely rumored to be in line for the position.)
While in Houston, Copping found time for a private tour of the Menil Collection, a visit to the Asia Society Texas Center, dinner at Underbelly, and tea with Lynn Wyatt. "I've always been a fan of hers," he said. "When I was a college student and did an internship at Vuitton, that was at end of the '80s when she was traveling to Paris to buy haute couture. I remember coming into Saint Laurent and her being on the front row. I went into the audience and took a great photograph of her once. She was sitting next to Estee Lauder."
Another thing he noticed about women here. "In Houston they buy their clothes," he said, without expecting to "borrow" something to wear from a designer.