Fashion world mourns the death of legendary designer, Oscar de la Renta, age 82
The fashion world bade farewell to one of its most loved designers on Tuesday as Oscar de la Renta died at the age of 82, surrounding by his family and ‘more than a few dogs.’ Darling of the divas, idol of the icons, de la Renta was the go-to guru for some of the world’s most stylish women.
A native of the Dominican Republic, de la Renta left home at 18 to study fine art at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. During his time there, he caught the eye of fashion legend Cristóbal Balenciaga and landed a job sketching dresses for Balenciaga’s eponymous house of couture. He received a lucky break when the wife of the American Ambassador to Spain saw his sketches and commissioned him to design a dress for her daughter. She appeared on the cover of Life magazine wearing the dress and from that moment on, de la Renta was thrust into the limelight on an international scale.
De la Renta had initially wanted to pursue a career in abstract painting but the fashion world had made an indelible mark on him. Humble and ambitious, de la Renta was not averse to doing the most menial of jobs.“I was picking pins up from the floor,” he said of his apprenticeship at Balenciaga. Although he worked there as an illustrator until 1961, he had major aspirations of becoming a designer. It was in Paris, on a working holiday, that he was poached by Antonio del Castillo, the creative director of Lanvin to be his assistant. In true ‘winging it’ style, de la Renta accepted the job, later admitting he “had never draped anything.” Instead of thwarting his chances, he merely replied; “Of course I know how to drape.” He was driven by an insatiable hunger to succeed and he immediately set about learning his craft. Determined to take the reigns of this new opportunity, he went straight for the yellow pages. “I found the biggest ad for a fashion school, and said, I just accepted this job to work at Lanvin, so would you teach me in a month what you teach in a year?”
It was this same and ambition and drive that brought de la Renta to New York to establish his own fashion label combining everything he had learned from Balenciaga, Lanvin and Elizabeth Arden. His signature style was delicate and feminine, characterised by soft ruffles, delicate taffeta, vibrant hues and silk prints. His background in art was apparent in the detail of his garments and each item he created was worthy of the term ‘art.’ His ‘ready-to-wear’ worthy of ‘haute couture.’ Amongst his peers he was known as the ‘sultan of suave.’
“Any girl from any walk of life dreams of that special dress, and I try to make that dream a reality for her,” Mr de la Renta once wistfully told Vogue magazine. The embodiment of this dream was the resplendent Amal Alamuddin in a bespoke Oscar de la Renta creation for her wedding to George Clooney this year.
De la Renta was highly sought after not only by the fash-pack but also by American first ladies and he dressed Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush, Jackie Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. Michelle Obama, however, snubbed his designs for over seven years and she was highly criticised by de la Renta for not wearing American designers. In an uncanny move, however, Obama debuted her first outing in an Oscar de la Renta dress when she hosted a cocktail party for The Fashion Education workshop just two weeks ago, history in the making.
De la Renta became a pioneer for Hispanic people and national pride of the Dominicans in 1992, when appointed as creative director of Balmain, he became the first Latin American designer ever to head a French couture house. His work at Balmain thrust the brand back to the forefront of cutting edge design and was responsible for re-inventing the brand. As a result, he was awarded French Legion d’Honneur as a Commandeur and the Gold Medal Award from the king and queen of Spain. Aside from his passion for fashion, de la Renta was an avid supporter of the Arts. He was a generous benefactor of several cultural institutions, inlcuding ‘New Yorkers for Children,’ ‘The Americas Society’ and ‘The Spanish Institute.’
De la Renta not only wowed in the fashion world, he also excelled in the fragrance and home department, making his eponymous brand a global name. In 2002, de la Renta designed a 100 piece collection for ‘Century Furniture’ and expanded his business to include the sale of homeware; featuring luxurious silverware and entertaining accoutrements for decadent dining.
In 2006, de la Renta was diagnosed with cancer but last year he had admitted that he was totally cancer-free which made the designer’s death all the more poignant. Tributes came flooding in, one of the most heartfelt being that of Sarah Jessica Parker’s.
“His absence means a momentous shift…………he really was singular and he has left a vacuum. He gave so much…… there was no one more handsome,”
she gushed about the designer who was often her plus one at functions. In one of fashion’s most daring moves, Parker convinced de la Renta to embroider his signature in scarlet on the hem of her dress for the Met Gala this year. The result – pure fashion gold!
He is succeeded by his second wife Anne France Engelhard, his adopted son, Moises de la Renta; his three step-children, Beatrice Reed, Charlie Reed and Eliza Bolen; nine grandchildren and his three sisters, who all live in the Dominican Republic. The Oscar de la Renta brand is now being spearheaded by former creative director at Nina Ricci, Peter Copping.
Here are some of my favourite Oscar de la Renta moments.