Cover Story

Laura Kim Loves Beautiful Things

The woman behind two luxury fashion houses—Oscar de la Renta and Monse—is intent on balancing a heady career with a fulfilled personal life.

Silver Chang
Makeup:
Karina Montoya
Hair:
Takashi Matono
DP/Editor:
Dave Russo


“Oscar [de la Renta] never used his office,” recalls Laura Kim, co-creative director of the late designer’s eponymous label. “Unless he was playing video games.” When Kim and fellow creative director Fernando Garcia returned to the fashion house in 2016, nearly two years after his death, they commandeered de la Renta’s Bryant Park space, including his personal office. They added a desk to accommodate the both of them, as well as a printer. They left the rest of the office intact—a wall lined with a sweet combination of sentimental and editorial photos, a fully-stocked, floor-to-ceiling bookshelf (“A lot of the books we bought together”). Now, they rarely use it either.

Kim, 40, runs from Oscar de la Renta uptown to the SoHo office of Monse, her own label that she co-founded with Garcia. They design collaboratively, each with their own aesthetic sense to contribute. “Fernando loves drama and fantasy, and I like reality,” she says. Naturally, both brands occupy the majority of Kim’s personal wardrobe. The pieces in her closet from other labels—though few—underscore her affinity for humor. Loewe cracked-egg heels. A knick-knack-embellished clutch. Denim and Birkenstocks.

Perhaps she developed this playful spirit after studying under de la Renta for more than a decade. Her mentor, a “people person," didn’t take life too seriously. “He was okay with having fun and not being perfect,” she muses. “But he always made it perfect at the end.” Kim is referring to the brand’s whimsical designs, which emphasized femininity in the form of ostentatious volume and saccharine florals.

When Kim and Garcia took on the role previously held by an 82-year-old, youthfulness was expected. However, they’ve had to navigate the tricky balance of modernizing the fashion house without neglecting the prior aesthetic foundation. Namely, you can’t ignore (or flummox) the current customer. “We are just trying to update how women dress every day more than anything because that was one of Oscar’s most important [values]—to be in touch with the world—rather than us saying, ‘I want to do younger things,’” explains Kim.

Despite the youthful expectations, Kim and Garcia first experienced critical acclaim for their fall ‘18 collection when they adhered to the archives in lieu of succumbing to the temptations of change. That said, they did not forgo modernity in its entirety. Archival evening wear silhouettes received an update in the form of gauzy tulle and gilded embellishments. “If it’s a conservative approach at a moment when experimentation is paying off elsewhere—see Kim and Garcia’s other label, the buzzy Monse—so be it,” wrote Vogue Runway director Nicole Phelps in her collection review. In collections that followed, Kim and Garcia massaged the idea of formal attire further with drapey swaths of fabric and new renditions of tailoring to the delight of the industry (and the brand’s customers). “I think the [Oscar de la Renta woman] loves beautiful things,” says Kim of the brand’s throughline—an ethos that translates well to the current designer’s own life.

Fashion has always been a part of Kim’s DNA. The designer was born in Seoul, South Korea, and began sewing at the age of three (“I just didn't think I could do anything else than to dress myself, honestly.”) She moved to Calgary, Canada, at the age of nine, leaving behind the stylish world of streetwear she still takes inspiration from today. “In Seoul, everyone was super fashionable,” she recounts. Bound by the confines of school uniforms, the elementary schoolers dressed up the uniforms with designer backpacks and other personal touches, á la Gossip Girl. “We were competing,” she says. “But in Canada, they're not very fancy. I grew up in a cowboy town, so I did my best.”

Top and Skirt: Oscar de la Renta

As Kim grew older, her family ushered her toward a creative career path. “I didn't [originally] see [fashion] as a career, but I enjoyed dressing myself so I was like, ‘Okay, I'll just make nice outfits,’” she says. Kim attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where she studied fashion. As is customary with NYC fashion students, her roster of internships was extensive. She began at Jeremy Scott, followed by Tse Cashmere (during the reign of designer Hussein Chalayan), and Donna Karen, which was then conveniently located in the same building as Oscar de la Renta. One day after work, she dropped off her resume at the office where she has now spent nearly two decades of her life, climbing the ranks from intern to co-creative director.

The esteemed design house initially piqued high school Kim’s interest in the pages of Vogue’s October 1999 issue. Annie Leibowitz captured Kate Moss outfitted in de la Renta’s feathered cape with Puff Daddy standing casually in the background. Placed by de la Renta himself, the image still hangs in Kim’s office. “I think it really triggered me like, wow, this world is so crazy. I love this.” Though the current Oscar de la Renta PR strategy manifests through celebrity-filled red carpets and press junkets, the house was built upon New York’s high society. De la Renta loved socialites and employed their children as design assistants. Early on, Kim worked alongside Coco Brandolini d’Adda (granddaughter of an Italian countess) and de la Renta’s own son, Moises. The space bore witness to many women of importance—Kim remembers spotting Hillary Clinton on more than one occasion. And during this era of The Hills, everyone looked the part. “Every day that I worked for Oscar, for like 13 years, I wore heels,” recalls Kim.“I had my hair blown out every morning.”

Kim quickly ascended from intern to design assistant. By 26, she was running de la Renta’s studio, leading employees years her senior. She thinks de la Renta found her youth complementary to his own age, though he was often the one cracking a joke to lighten her mood. She eventually made her way to design director, continuing to work closely alongside de la Renta until his death in 2014.

Top and Skirt: Oscar de la Renta

The following year, in 2015, Kim and Garcia—then design director and senior designer, respectively—resigned. (Peter Copping began leading the fashion house as creative director following de la Renta’s death, who personally requested they stay through Copping’s first collection). It was Kim’s first time away from the fashion house since she started as an intern in 2003. The plan was to take three months of vacation (read: refuge) at Garcia's parents' beach house following their exodus, but the New York transplants couldn’t sit still. Kim and Garcia had been harboring the desire to establish themselves outside of a storied brand, and this finally felt like the right moment to do it. “I called my lawyer and my accountant over [to the beach house] to start the company,” says Kim. There, they birthed Monse. Except within roughly four months (following Kim’s brief stint at Carolina Herrera), Oscar de la Renta CEO and friend Alex Bolen asked Kim and Garcia to return to Oscar de la Renta as co-creative directors. Suddenly, they had two labels to run.

“Launching [our own brand] was hard,” says Kim. “We were so poor and getting started was painful.” After surviving the initial growing pains, both Kim and Garcia have a greater appreciation for the business side of a company. Monse serves as a space for them to experiment creatively without the looming presence of a decades-old brand DNA, which they’ve done by deconstructing classic silhouettes like trench coats and oxford shirts. At Oscar de la Renta, they can still create without the financial restrictions of a young label. “If I didn't have Monse, I probably wouldn't have stayed [at Oscar de la Renta] so long,” admits Kim.

Kim experienced an incredible amount of success in the fashion design world at an early age, meaning her early life often centered around work—leaving little room to carve out a social life. “People would ask me about restaurants. And they're like, ‘You lived here for 20 years.’ And I'm like, ‘Actually in my 20s, I was inside an office. I wasn't really in New York City,” she recalls. Today, she’s bursting with recommendations (Atomix and Kajitsu among them). This social debut is due in part to a rather newfound camaraderie. You’ll rarely see Kim without her boyfriend Linus Adolffson, Garcia, Marco D’Angelo (who handles PR for Oscar de la Renta), or her tight-knit industry battalion: influencer Tina Leung, socialite Ezra William, and fellow designers Prabal Gurung and Philip Lim. All of whom continue to coax her out of a tendency to shuttle between home and office.

Dress: Oscar de la Renta

Shoes: Versace

In succumbing to a less rigid lifestyle, Kim has let her personal life spill into her designs. “Your work is like the vomit of what you live in,” she laughs. Oscar de la Renta’s spring ‘22 collection features a print with a painterly rendering by Melanie Vugich, whom Kim discovered via Instagram, that depicts the designer’s own kitchen table. She’s currently cultivating a vegetable garden for the upstairs terrace of her SoHo penthouse apartment, though this particular pursuit has yet to cross over to her designs. “I tried,” she says. ”But a lettuce doesn't really work on an elegant dress.”

Kim documents her creative pursuits on Instagram, alongside glamorous nights out with her industry brigade and cameos of her sister’s goldendoodle, Milou. There, followers can witness firsthand her newfound passion for food and cooking. “Food for me, you smell it first and then you see it and then you taste it. It's such an experience,” Kim explains. “If it's not pretty, it's just not the same.” The aesthete recently attempted the internet-favorite thousand-layer potatoes and a complex French dish, Chou Farsi. “[Laura’s] approach to food is so in tandem with her design brilliance—absolute perfection combined with out-of-the-box thinking,” says frequent collaborator and stylist Elizabeth Stewart of her friend.

These days, social media offers a glimpse of the enriching life Kim has built for herself outside of her career, which she has managed to do without diminishing her design prowess. “A job is not you,” she says. “You could leave it or lose it the next day.” Though she wouldn’t label herself an influencer, she now wields greater influence as followers acquaint themselves with “Laura as ‘Laura LLC’ instead of Laura, who's connected to Oscar, Laura who's at Monse.” Laura LLC loves to cook. Laura LLC enjoys spending time with friends and exploring new restaurants in New York City. And just like the Oscar de la Renta woman, Laura LLC loves beautiful things.

Sound: Max Cooke / Gaffer: Anthony Marotta / Photo Asst: Di-Chen Chen
Production Director: Jess Sisco / Creative Director: Phuong Nguyen / Associate Producer: Claire Flanagan

Want more stories like this?

Lana Condor On Love, Legacy, And Life In The Fast Lane
It’s Kelly Wearstler’s World
The Wonderful World Of Sir John

More From the series Cover Story
You May Also Like