On a gray winter afternoon in Paris this past January, the Nina Ricci flagship, located on a suitably grand corner of Avenue Montaigne, was a glittering jewelry box. Ivory mannequins in emerald green tweeds, ruffled cocktail dresses, and fluffy marabou coats in shades of dusty pink gyrated on tiny pedestals in the windows. Inside, the newly arrived spring clothing hung next to overstuffed baskets of lace-edged lingerie. Prominently displayed were Lalique crystal bottles of L’Air du Temps—the house’s legendary floral fragrance, composed by master perfumer Francis Fabron in 1948.
Far above street level, in a small office off one side of his design studio, Peter Copping, 45, Nina Ricci’s artistic director, was sipping tea. He had a serious cold, caught on his way back from Morocco, he said, where he had been with his partner, Rambert Rigaud—who used to work as studio director at Yves Saint Laurent and is now training to be a florist—seeking out Tamegroute pottery, among other things. (“It’s very rustic, very heavy, and has a beautiful green glaze,” Copping explained.) He was wearing chinos, a navy-and-white-striped T-shirt, and a gray cashmere cardigan. Copping told me he buys almost all of his wardrobe from 45RPM, a Japanese brand known for carefully crafted staples—and occasionally from Comme des Garçons or Ralph Lauren—and balked wryly at the suggestion that he might one day apply his considerable credentials to men’s wear design. “Does a man want to say, ‘Oh, I’m wearing Nina Ricci’?” he mused, deadpanning: “I think that would be quite a difficult fit. I find that when men are too ‘done,’ there’s a slight embarrassment factor. Do you know what I mean?”
Of all the French heritage names in existence today, Nina Ricci is indeed the most unashamedly feminine—a characteristic that applies to everything from the clothes to the soft-focus advertising campaigns. But despite the fact that images of models like Malgosia Bela and Raquel Zimmermann in liquid floor-sweeping gowns are by now firmly established in fashion’s collective subconscious, until relatively recently, Nina Ricci was known first and foremost for L’Air du Temps, which remains one of France’s best-selling perfumes more than half a century after its launch.
It is unlikely that many people outside the fashion industry have heard of the Englishman behind the label’s current regeneration. After working at Louis Vuitton for a dozen years—most recently as Marc Jacobs’s women’s wear studio director—Copping stepped quietly into the limelight three years ago, when Nina Ricci president Manuel Puig hired him to revamp the brand. That was not an easy proposition. The house had already been through four designers in the decade before Copping’s arrival—including Olivier Theyskens, whose sales figures failed to equal the critical acclaim garnered by his work.