“It’s a very unconventional but special way of sharing our collection,” said Fernando Garcia, the co-creative director at Oscar de la Renta. He was welcoming the fashion house's 50 best customers. The high rollers. For Fashion Week 2023, they were treated to an early look at the new line, direct to consumer.
“We are very focused on talking directly to our customers, " CEO Alex Bolen said. “Fashion Week was set up years ago really to deal with the wholesale community and the fashion media."
The decision to abandon a traditional runway show is the result of lessons learned in the pandemic, Bolen said. In fact, the last time Oscar de la Renta did a Fashion Week runway show was in February 2020.
“COVID was a near-death experience for us," said Bolen. "We lost probably around 70% of our sales in 2020. We have, thank God, bounced back.”
The brand has bounced back, and then some. Last year, sales and profits were their highest ever, according to Bolen. And this year is on pace to do even better. Bolen credits lessons learned during the pandemic that forced him to make difficult decisions, streamlining the business and cutting costs.
Part of what Bolen and his team have done is dress the stars on their biggest nights. At the VMAs last week, Selena Gomez wore a red lace Oscar de la Renta.
As she accepted the award with Rema for best Afrobeats, among those cheering the loudest was her friend Taylor Swift, who herself wore two Oscar dresses on her Eras tour.
It is a production in itself to get a garment ready for center stage. The day before the VMA’s, NY1 was there as Gomez’s dress was fine-tuned for its big reveal. Bolen called dressing high-profile people "an increasingly important part of our business.”
Bolen gave NY1 a tour of the label’s Midtown headquarters, 25 stories above Times Square. The space is part design studio, part factory, part showroom.
And while an Oscar dress usually runs north of $2,500, the brand is increasingly focused on jewelry and perfume to attract a new consumer at a more accessible price point.
"The $100 part, the earrings, the rings, these are parts that have really expanded our customer base," Bolen said. "We've been able to talk to much younger customers by offering this product.” And it’s working.
The company has outgrown its retail space on Madison Avenue and just last week signed a new lease for 80% more space four blocks to the south.
“We think that New York City is the center of our world and so this will be our global flagship. We should be open early next year,” Bolen said.
As for the digital side of the business, Oscar de la Renta has more than 7 million Instagram followers.
“I cannot underestimate the importance of digital," said Bolen. The Gomez dress was a marketing home run. With her more than 400 million followers, Selena Gomez ranks at the very top of Instagram influencers.
“Oscar said, ‘I'm successful if she's not thinking about what she's wearing. Once she's gone out, she's thinking about what's going on around her and not, do I look right?'” Bolen said. “And so, I think we all keep that in mind. We want to make sure that it's really about her and that she is confident. And if we're doing that, we'll find more people who come in.”