Fashion designer to the stars, Oscar de la Renta, dies

Fashion designer to the stars, Oscar de la Renta, dies

Oscar de la Renta, the worldly gentleman designer who shaped the wardrobe of socialites and Hollywood stars for more than four decades, has died. He was 82.

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Oscar de la Renta watches as the final model walks the runway during the presentation of his Spring 2013 collection at Fashion Week in New York
Oscar de la Renta watches as the final model walks the runway during the presentation of his Spring 2013 collection at Fashion Week in New York
Photo: Associated Press

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A dress from the Oscar de la Renta Spring 2012 collection is modelled during Fashion Week in New York.
A dress from the Oscar de la Renta Spring 2012 collection is modelled during Fashion Week in New York.
Photo: Associated Press

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A piece from the Oscar de la Renta Fall 2012 collection is modeled during Fashion Week in New York., February 14, 2012.
A piece from the Oscar de la Renta Fall 2012 collection is modeled during Fashion Week in New York., February 14, 2012.
Photo: Associated Press

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A model pauses on the runway at the Oscar de la Renta Fall 2011 show during Fashion Week in New York, February 16, 2011.
A model pauses on the runway at the Oscar de la Renta Fall 2011 show during Fashion Week in New York, February 16, 2011.
Photo: Associated Press

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A piece from the Oscar de la Renta Fall 2013 show is modeled during Fashion Week in New York, on February 12, 2013.
A piece from the Oscar de la Renta Fall 2013 show is modeled during Fashion Week in New York, on February 12, 2013.
Associated Press

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Oprah Winfrey, right, and Oscar de la Renta arrive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute gala, in New York on May 3, 2010.
Oprah Winfrey, right, and Oscar de la Renta arrive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute gala, in New York on May 3, 2010.
Photo: Associated Press

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President Bush and first lady Laura Bush wave to the crowd after dancing at the Constitution Ball during the 55th Presidential Inaugural celebration in Washington, DC, January 20, 2005. Her dress was designed by de la Renta.
President Bush and first lady Laura Bush wave to the crowd after dancing at the Constitution Ball during the 55th Presidential Inaugural celebration in Washington, DC, January 20, 2005. Her dress was designed by de la Renta.
Photo: Associated Press

Oscar de la Renta, the worldly gentleman designer who shaped the wardrobe of socialites and Hollywood stars for more than four decades, has died. He was 82.

De la Renta died at home on Monday evening in Connecticut surrounded by family and friends and "more than a few dogs," said a statement signed by his stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband, Alex Bolen.

"While our hearts are broken by the idea of life without Oscar, he is still very much with us. Oscar's hard work, his intelligence and his love of life are at the heart of our company,"  the statement said. "All that we have done, and all that we will do, is informed by his values and his spirit. Through Oscar's example we know the way forward. We will make Oscar very proud of us by continuing in an even stronger way the work that Oscar loved so much."

The late '60s and early '70s were a defining moment in US fashion as New York-based designers finally carved a look of their own that was taken seriously by Europeans. De la Renta and his peers, including the late Bill Blass, Roy Halston and Geoffrey Beene, defined American style — and their influence is still seen today.

De la Renta’s specialty was eveningwear, though he also was known for chic daytime suits favoured by the women who would gather at the Four Seasons or Le Cirque at lunchtime. His signature looks were voluminous skirts, exquisite embroideries and rich colours.

Most recently, Amal Alamuddin wore a de la Renta-designed wedding dress when she married George Clooney. First ladies Laura Bush wore an icy blue gown by de la Renta to the 2005 inaugural ball and Hillary Rodham Clinton wore a gold de la Renta to the 1997 ball. On the red carpet at the Academy Awards, Penelope Cruz and Sandra Bullock were among the celebrities to don his feminine and opulent gowns. His clothes even were woven into episodes of Sex and the City with style icon character Carrie Bradshaw dropping his name — and comparing his designs to poetry.

"We will miss Oscar’s generous and warm personality, his charm, and his wonderful talents." Bush said in a statement. "My daughters and I have many fond memories of visits with Oscar, who designed our favourite clothes, including Jenna's wedding dress.  We will always remember him as the man who made women look and feel beautiful."

Sidetracked by fashion

De la Renta's path to New York's Seventh Avenue took an unlikely route: He left his native Dominican Republic at age 18 to study painting in Spain but soon became sidetracked by fashion. The wife of the US Ambassador to Spain saw some of his sketches and asked him to make a dress for her daughter — a dress that landed on the cover of Life magazine.

That led to an apprenticeship with Cristobal Balenciaga, and then de la Renta moved to France to work for couture house Lanvin. By 1963, he was working for Elizabeth Arden couture in New York and in 1965 had launched his own label.

He said his Hispanic roots worked their way into his designs.

"I like light, color, luminosity. I like things full of color and vibrant," he said.

And while de la Renta made Manhattan his primary home, he often visited the Dominican Republic and kept a home there. Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour was a frequent visitor and she has said traveling with him was like traveling with the president. "He’s a superstar," she said.

He also had a country home in northwestern Connecticut. Gardening and dancing were among his favourite diversions from work. "I'm a very restless person. I'm always doing something. The creative process never stops," he said.

As a designer, De la Renta always catered to his socialite friends and neighbours — as the designer and his wife, Annette, were fixtures on the black-tie charity circuit — but he did make occasional efforts to reach the masses, including launching a mid-priced line in 2004 and developing a dozen or so perfumes, the first, called Oscar, was introduced in 1977 and more recently, Rosamor hit the market.

He was an avid patron of the arts, serving as a board member of The Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall, among others, and he devoted considerable time to children’s charities, including New Yorkers for Children. He also helped fund schools and day-care centeres in La Romana and Punta Cana in his native country.

The Dominican Republic honoured de la Renta with the order al Merito de Juan Pablo Duarte and the order of Cristobol Colon. Here in the US, he received the Coty American Fashion Critics Award twice, was named womenswear designer of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2000 and also received a lifetime achievement award from the CFDA — an organisation for which he served as president in the 1980s.

Other labels

In addition to his own label, de la Renta spearheaded the Pierre Balmain collection from 1993-2002, marking the first time an American designed for a French couture house, and he was awarded the French Legion d’Honneur as a Commandeur. He also received the Gold Medal Award from the king and queen of Spain.

De la Renta gave up the title of chief executive of his company in 2004, handing over business duties to the Bolens, but he remained active on the design end, continuing to show his collections during New York Fashion Week.

De la Renta also is survived by an adopted son, Moises, a designer at the company.

De la Renta’s first wife, French Vogue editor Francoise de Langlade, died in 1983.
 

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