Oscar de la Renta, who passed away on October 20, was America’s fashion designer—uniquely American for his love of the classic, both in functionality and in beauty. With a command of functional, yet luxurious women’s wear and his support of strong women, he rose to the top of the fashion industry with ease. De la Renta’s own quotes probably describe him the best. “I design clothes for women to wear,” he once said. “I am not interested in shock tactics. I just want to make beautiful clothes.” His vision will be missed, but will surely stand the test of time.
De la Renta was born in Santo Domingo in 1932. The only son of seven children, his father wanted him to help run his insurance agency. But de la Renta’s mother pushed him to chase his dreams, and when he was 18, he traveled to Madrid to study painting. His connection to the fashion world began in 1957, when he got a job sketching for Cristobal Balenciaga. He then moved to Paris in 1961 to work as an assistant to Lanvin’s head designer, Antonio del Castillo.
When he moved to New York City in 1963, he brought letters of introduction to Diana Vreeland, Alexander Lieberman and John Fairchild with him. He was offered a job within a day as the designer of Elizabeth Arden’s made-to-order clothing line. It didn’t take long for him to find his own success—within two years, he had established his own business designing ready-to-wear collections for women.
He quickly rose to exemplify feminine, high society women’s wear. De la Renta also famously dressed the nation’s first ladies, from Jackie Kennedy to Nancy Regan and Hillary Clinton. With romantic elements (ruffles, silks, floral details) and modern sensibilities (comfortable and wearable cuts), he dressed the contemporary woman who could have it all—and be classically feminine doing it.
1. Early photo of Oscar de la Renta
2. Oscar de la Renta, 2012
3. Oscar de la Renta in his apartment, photo by Christopher Sturman
4. A classic editorial photo from Vogue, shot by Steven Meisel in 2012
5. Oscar de la Renta Spring 2013 campaign, photographed by Craig McDean
6. Final look at the Oscar de la Renta Spring 2015 runway show
Sources:Sources: NYMag, Britannica, Washington Post
Image Layout: Second City Style
Haute Historian: Oscar de la Renta – America's Leading Fashion Designer
November 10, 2014