Oscar de la Renta: American Icon. Couturier, artist, gentleman, philantropist. An icon of the New York fashion scene, Oscar de la Renta was famed for the timeless elegance and unapologetic glamour of his collections. Known as "The Sultan of Suave" and renowned for his unique charm, impeccable taste, and original lifestyle, he married the highest standards of French couture with the ultimate motivation that women must look and feel beautiful. Apart from his talent to create gourgeous dresses, Oscar De la Renta, who also founded the Casa del Niño orphanage in La Romana in the Dominican Republic, will be remembered for his humanity, humour and generosity.
Oscar Aristides Renta Fiallo (he changed his name to the more aspirational “de la Renta” ), couturier. (1932-2014)
Admired by contemporaries, adored by consumers, Oscar de la Renta had a long, successful run. An icon of the New York fashion scene, Oscar de la Renta was famed for the timeless elegance and unapologetic glamour of his collections. Known as "The Sultan of Suave" and renowned for his unique charm, impeccable taste, and original lifestyle, he married the highest standards of French couture with the ultimate motivation that women must look and feel beautiful. “I have always thought that my role as a designer is to do the very best I can for a woman,” De la Renta told 1stdibs in a 2010 profile. “Oscar adored, respected, and celebrated women — and made them feel beautiful” model Karlie Kloss said. Not many designers are equally as favored by both the political and the celebrity set, but Oscar’s stunning, feminine gowns and beautiful dresses were universally chic. “I’m not interested in shock tactics. I just want to make beautiful clothes,” Oscar de la Renta famously said in 1963. And for De la Renta, doing the very best meant making a woman feel beautiful, glamorous and full of confidence, whether she was walking down the red carpet or a crowded city street. “You carry the clothes, the clothes don't carry you,” he said. During a career which spanned more than five decades, he dressed Hollywood celebrities, social A-listers and a succession of First Ladies which began with Jacqueline Kennedy and ended with Michelle Obama. In between there was Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton.
Oscar de la Renta, Audrey Hepburn and Liza Minnelli, 1989.Hillary Rodham Clinton, Anna Wintour and Oscar de la Renta 2005.
Mrs. Clinton liked to say, somewhat drolly, “He’s been working for 20 years to turn me into a fashion icon.” Over the years, everyone from Candice Bergen to Sandra Bullock, Oprah Winfrey, Ann Hathaway, Lea Michele, Jennifer Garner, Beyoncé, Sarah Jessica Parker, Penelope Cruz and countless other noteworthy women have made a splash wearing his opulent, tasteful designs.
Sara Jessica Parker at the Met Gala 2014
“It was an enormous privilege to be dressed by Mr. de la Renta for so many occasions over the last 15 years,” Sarah Jessica Parker said. “And especially meaningful to collaborate with him for this year's Met Gala. I will always be grateful that he allowed me to honor him by embroidering his name in Scarlett on the hem of his glorious dress. He was an inspiration and a man like no other.” In an interview with Vanity Fair following the 2014 Met Ball, Parker admitted that stitching the famed designer's name across the train of her dress was something De la Renta would never do because of his sincere classiness. “I said to Mr. de la Renta, 'Please let me use scarlet embroidery thread and splash your name across the back,” Sarah Jessica Parker told the mag. "It was my idea. He would never in a million years have done it; he's far too modest.”
Amal Alamuddin and Oscar de la Renta
One of his most memorable moments came mere weeks before his death, when international human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin wed actor George Clooney in a stunning bespoke ivory tulle gown by De la Renta. “George and I wanted a wedding that was romantic and elegant.” Alamuddin told American Vogue. “Meeting Oscar made the design process all the more magical, as he is so warm and such a gentleman.”
Born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, with six older sisters, De la Renta raised in a world filled with intellectuals, artists and politicians. At the age of 18, he left the Caribbean island to study painting at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. “…nightlife was all flamencos” he told Vogue. “I became the closest friend of every gypsy guitar player in the city.” While in Spain, he dreamed of becoming an abstract painter but instead became wooed by the world of fashion design. His obvious talent for illustration opened doors for him, and he quickly landed an apprenticeship with Spain's most renowned couturier, Cristobal Balenciaga.
Oscar de la Renta for Balenciaga
“When I was in art school in Madrid, my mother passed away. My father started to pressure me to come back to the Dominican Republic,” he said in an interview with Linda Fargo - style guru and senior vice president of the fashion office and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman - “He felt that being a painter was okay for a hobby but not a profession. A friend in school was doing fashion illustration for newspapers and magazines and I thought, I can do that, too. I wanted to prove to my father that I could generate some income. I used to be a very good sketcher; I’m not as good now because I don’t do it as much. The friend said, “I know Cristóbal Balenciaga very well.” And that is how I landed a job at Balenciaga. In life, a lot of good things happen by accident.” His job was to sketch dresses to send to clients. But when De la Renta asked Mr. Balenciaga to move him to the main studio in Paris, the couturier told him he wasn’t qualified yet and to wait a year. Instead, armed with letters of introduction, Mr. de la Renta left for Paris and was immediately offered a job at Christian Dior. The next day he went to see Antonio del Castillo, the designer at Lanvin, who was looking for an assistant. “He loved me because I spoke Spanish, and he asked me if I could cut, drape and sew, and of course I said yes,” De la Renta told Bernadine Morris, a former fashion reporter for The Times. “He offered me a little more money than Dior, and I said I would start in two weeks. Then I went to a fashion school and asked the woman who ran it if she could teach me the year’s course in two weeks.”
Life cover story "It was on the daughter of Francesca and John Davis Lodge, who was the American ambassador to Spain at the time. Their daughter Beatrice was having a big coming-out party. I was lucky that Francesca saw one of my dresses when I was just beginning. There were so many people who wanted to make that particular dress, and they chose me, probably because I was unknown, so the others would not be jealous."
Within two years, he moved to New York and joined the cosmetics guru, Elizabeth Arden, which then produced a couture line. By 1963 he had joined Jane Derby, as partner and designer, taking over when Derby died. The Dominican couturier launched his eponymous fashion brand in New York in 1965. Among the designer's not-so-secret weapons was his second wife and muse, Annette Engelhard, who became one of New York's most elegant and popular hostesses — and naturally, a great model for her husband's clothes and the brand. She was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1973.
Oscar de la Renta was the winner of numerous Coty and Council of Fashion Designers of America awards, including the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990, the fashion equivalent of the Oscars. With his spring 1993 collection for the house of Pierre Balmain, Oscar de la Renta became the first American to design for a French couture house and has been awarded the French Legion d’Honneur as a Commandeur. Also in 2000, Mr. de la Renta received the Gold Medal of Bellas Artes from the King of Spain. The Dominican Republic has also honored its best known native son as one of its most distinguished citizens with the order al Merito de Juan Pablo Duarte and the Order of Christopher Columbus (Spanish: Orden Heráldica de Cristóbal Colón). Besides his passion for haute couture, De la Renta was a tireless patron of the arts. At one time or another, he has served on the boards of The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and Channel Thirteen/WNET. He also supported several cultural institutions, including New Yorkers for Children, the Americas Society and the Spanish Institute.
HOMES & GARDENS
Above: Photo by Oscar de la Renta of his gardens in Kent, Connecticut. Below: Photo by Oscar de la Renta of his gardens in Punta Cana.
In common with the legends of couture – Balenciaga, Givenchy, Valentino – De la Renta was the complete package. His style was never just about clothes. Elegant dressing. Chic houses. Beautiful surroundings. Delicious cuisine. The garden of his Connecticut country house was renowned for its taste. “I have made so many mistakes with the garden,” he said. “It's like fashion. Every time you plant something you learn, and it's different.” But where he really revealed himself, his hospitable nature, was in the Dominican Republic, where he was regarded as an unofficial ambassador (he held a diplomatic passport anyway). He built two homes there. The first, in Casa de Campo, featured thatched roofs, rattan furniture and hammocks, and images of the de la Rentas’ informal gatherings often appeared in W in the 1970s. The second home, in Punta Cana, though imposing in the Colonial style, with wide verandas (and its own chapel on the grounds), also had a relaxed feeling. Mr. de la Renta built the house with his second wife, the former Annette Engelhard Reed, whom he married in 1989, after the death of Francoise, from cancer, in 1983.
Oscar de la Renta and friends
At holidays, the de la Rentas filled their house in Punta Cana with relatives and friends, notably Bill and Hillary Clinton, Nancy and Henry Kissinger, and the art historian John Richardson. The family dogs had the run of the compound, and Mr. de la Renta often sang spontaneously after dinner.
Oscar de la Renta will be remembered for his humanity, humour and generosity. Inside and outside fashion. With a rumoured intervention from American Vogue's Anna Wintour, De la Renta gave John Galliano the opportunity to re-engage with international fashion following the drunken, antisemitic rant which had ended his tenure at Dior and made him persona non grata. “John is one of the great talents of our times,” De la Renta told Vanity Fair. “It's always great to have another eye challenging you and we had a wonderful time working together. If you ask me the question, would you like to have him again? Yes.” Apart from his talent to create gourgeous dresses, Oscar De la Renta, a proud son of the Dominican Republic, has been a generous benefactor in his native country, establishing La Casa del Niño, a school and charity for the island’s neediest children.
Oscar de la Renta and Karlie Kloss
“I attended the Met Gala with Oscar just eight months ago,” model Karlie Kloss told Glamour - “That night at the dinner, I had one of the most heartfelt conversations with him that I've ever had with anyone. He told me how he fell in love with his wife, Annette, and he told me about his first wife, who had died of cancer 30 years before. The most important thing in life, he said that night, is to love and be loved, and to do what you love.”
exhibition will include more than 100 ensembles produced over five
decades, and is presented in collaboration with the house of de la Renta
and the designer’s family. Thematic sections will trace de la
Renta’s upbringing in the Dominican Republic; the rise of his career in
Spain, where he gained his first commissions; his formative years spent
in the world’s most iconic fashion houses; and his eventual role as a
designer for many of the most influential and celebrated personalities
of the 20th century. André Leon Talley, former American
editor-at-large for Vogue magazine, will curate the exhibition. His
depth of knowledge and lifelong friendship with de la Renta will provide
an unmatched perspective on the designer’s career. For this
presentation, de la Renta’s company will open its archives to illuminate
both the breadth and depth of the designer’s work. Additional pieces
will be drawn from the designer’s personal collection, private lenders
from around the world, and the Fine Arts Museums’ costume collection.
SCAD Museum of Art,Savannah, Georgia “Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style” February 5, 2015 – May 3, 2015
Oscar de la Renta retrospective. On February 2015, the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia - paid the first posthumous tribute to influential Dominican-born designer Oscar de la Renta, through an exhibition that explored his relationship with his unconditional clients, close friends and beloved family. Titled “Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style”, the exhibition featured more than 50 garments, including dresses worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman, Taylor Swift, Kirsten Dunst, Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé, as well as by former first ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. Apart from an array of cocktail dresses and gowns donated by Moda Operandi’s Lauren Santo Domingo, Anna Wintour and her daughter Bee Shaffer, Hilary Clinton’s adviser Huma Abedin, landscape architect Miranda Brooks and faithful clients Mercedes T. Bass and Diana Taylor, on display there were also exclusive Oscar de la Renta’s designs for his cherished wife and muse Annette and his stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen. “Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style” was curated by SCAD Board of Trustees member André Leon Talley, longtime friend of Oscar de la Renta. Far from being a retrospective, the exhibition was an intimate interpretation of the designer’s legacy through his illustrious life and timeless work. “Oscar de la Renta designed clothes for women who wanted to look and feel beautiful, at their most elegant best,” said Talley, who is also working on a new book about the celebrated designer that will be published in September by Rizzoli. In this intimate volume, André Leon Talley recounts de la Renta’s journey through nearly 70 iconic dresses, mainly made for private clients, accompanied by fascinating stories of the exquisite craftsmanship and the legendary friends that brought each gown to life.
This seminal fashion exhibition celebrated the world-renowned work and inspiring life of designer Oscar de la Renta. The exhibit featured more than 30 of his iconic creations worn by leading arbiters of style, from First Ladies to Hollywood's brightest stars.