As I’m sure many of you are aware, the fashion world lost one a great man. Regarded by many as a friend, mentor, and an inspiration. He was someone who took pleasure in his designs — and the women who wore them — up until the very end of his life. That is how fashion world notables recalled Oscar de la Renta, who died Monday at 82.
Born in Santa Domingo in 1932 to a wealthy family, De la Renta was an immigrant whose name become synonymous with the American upper class. The youngest of seven brothers, he arrived in the US via Madrid and Paris, where he had worked for Cristóbal Balenciaga, Lanvin and Balmain. The money his father sent him while he was in Spain he spent on fancy clothes and “senorita” suits. He remained joyously and impeccably dapper – three-piece suits with starched collars to entertain influential friends at his various holiday homes – until his death. His close friendships with the women of the White House and the fact that his label represents American society (in the way that big gowns and Upper East Side skirt suits just do) underlines his journey as the designer who arrived and made it big.
Though he had been sick with cancer for almost eight years, De la Renta’s business had been booming – it grew by 50% in the last decade. His frothy, feminine, highly photogenic gowns continued to rule the Oscars – from Cameron Diaz in shimmering gold in 2010 to Amy Adams in dove-grey ruffles in 2013. Even more recently, De la Renta enjoyed publicity his competitors could only have dreamed of when human-rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin wore a lace, ivory dress for her spectacular wedding to actor George Clooney. It was this month, too, that Michelle Obama – who had previously broken with White House tradition by declining to wear the designer’s work for seven years – finally wore a De la Renta cocktail dress. The choice was perceived by some commentators as a goodwill nod to the brand and its history.
The designer’s work became relevant to a wider audience thanks to Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. She spoke of “Oscar’s” dresses in hushed, reverential whispers. But the high point of the romance came in season six when Carrie’s Russian lover buys her a hot-pink cocktail dress by the designer, with a tight shell top and a cropped debutant full skirt, which she ends up wearing to McDonald’s, dancing and eating fries. It became a small-screen sartorial cult moment. It wasn’t the only time De la Renta was name-checked in recent pop culture. In the notable The Devil Wears Prada speech, when fictional editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly explains to her assistant the fashion food chain and why she is wearing a blue Gap jumper, she namechecked De la Renta’s 2002 collection of cerulean gowns. Meanwhile, in real life, Sarah Jessica Parker was a regular exponent of the brand on the red carpet.
Epitomising femininity and elegance, there will never be another Oscar De La Renta. His design legacy now lays in the hands of Peter Copping, who was announced as creative director of Oscar De la Renta earlier this month.
May he rest in peace….