“Sometimes designers have their own agendas, which I understand, but this house was not strong enough to support that,” Puig told me in Paris. “We had to reconstruct the codes, we had to look at the past, and we had to be very precise. Peter and I spoke the same language.” Copping concurred: “I wanted to go back to the couture essence of the brand. But I think the Nina Ricci customer has a sense of frivolity too.”
Perfectly in sync with the prevailing mood in fashion—l’air du temps, indeed—Copping’s spring collection was replete with references to the elevated craft of haute couture. “Our clients really do want good quality,” he said. “And if something references haute couture, well, then that’s a no-brainer for
them. We do quite a lot of special orders, and you have to remember that 25,000 euros for some people is the same as 2.50 euros for others. If you have that amount of money, fair enough. But the one thing I really like is when people enjoy dressing up.”
Above all, Copping continued, Nina Ricci is “typically French—sexy but not vulgar.” Though he has lived in Paris for 18 years, his status as an expat gives him the distance required to subvert the clichéd jolie madame aesthetic—to transform it into something both pretty and witty. “It drives the ateliers crazy sometimes that, when things are too perfectly made, I’ll ask them to go off and dump them in water or crush them. Sometimes we put the dresses in the steam press”—he paused for a moment, before adding mischievously: “like in [cult eighties TV soap] Prisoner: Cell Block H.”
Maria “Nina” Ricci, the daughter of a ribbon maker, was Italian by birth. Her outstanding skills as a seamstress led to her working as a premier at Raffin, one of Paris’s most feted houses, by the time she was 25, in the early years of the 20th century. In 1932, at age 49—and with a son, Robert, by her husband, jeweler Luigi Ricci—she founded her own label. Nina’s technical virtuosity and respect for elegance coupled with Robert’s pioneering marketing prowess proved to be a winning combination. Aimed at the comparatively larger crowd of society’s well-heeled women more than at the smaller orbit of movie stars and princesses, the Nina Ricci label was as timeless as it was chic, and it soon acquired a client base to rival that of any other major French house.
Copping, true to his word—and in only six seasons—has reinvigorated the label with that original lighthearted élan. “When you look at a brand like Chanel,” he said, “it’s defined by the tweed suit; by the big easy pants that Mademoiselle Chanel used to wear; by the symbols—the camellia, the pearls. Saint Laurent has Le Smoking and the safari jacket. As a company, Nina Ricci has a long and strong history—but what Maria Ricci left was the legacy of a style, more than iconic pieces as such.”