BENJAMIN CHAIT ’16
The pain inspired by the loss of designer Oscar de la Renta is felt far beyond the fashion industry. The artist finally lost his battle with cancer on October 20th, at the age of 82. Oscar is as renowned for his precise tailoring and innovative designs as he is for his exuberant personality and charity work. Fiona Brennan ’15, who interned for Oscar de la Renta last summer, remembers, “even during his final days he was in the office more than three days a week. He gives back enormously to his roots in the Dominican Republic. He started an orphanage there and adopted his son from the orphanage. He was very good at making everyone feel like they were an integral part of the business”
The business, The House of Oscar de la Renta, was founded in 1965. Before beginning his own label, Oscar worked for houses of Lanvin and Balenciaga. His house was widely accepted as the ultimate model of an American fashion house. Never one to take the easy road, Oscar has consistently been ahead of the trends and able to update his clothing for the time periods in which he was working. He spoke often about the importance of pushing fashion into the future and making clothes that women can and want to wear. Though not an official couturier, Oscar’s craftsmanship was as meticulous as any found in a Parisian house.
Oscar’s designs occupy the space at the crossroads of what is wearable and what is avant-garde. He was respected and admired by those within the fashion community, both young and old, yet was able to dress some of the most stylish women in the world.
Though primarily known for his ball gowns, Oscar was a master of clothing of all forms. He could properly cut a tailored suit as well as he could a great pair of dress slacks. This is perhaps why he has one of the most impressive client lists in fashion history. Each season he would put out a collection that could appeal to women both subtle and extravagant. My mother was a fan, as was Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce Knowles, Barbara Walters, Karlie Kloss, Amy Adams, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Obama, and Nancy Regan. Hillary Clinton became a client and a close friend of the designer after wearing several of his gowns for events as the first lady and even in the pages of Vogue.
Oscar wanted to give women what he believed they wanted. He is often defined as a Park Avenue designer, but he truly reached an expansive audience with his designs. He could produce modest full-length ensembles that appealed to an older and more conservative demographic with the same ease and artistic integrity as he brought to some of his short cocktail dresses and even midriff bearing gowns. Despite the rich crop of young designers, Callan Vessels ’15 chose to intern with Oscar two summers ago. She remembers his youthful personality above all, saying, “Oscar’s presence in the office was remarkable. He brought a glow to the office that I have never experienced anywhere else. His designs and creativity were magnificent, and he will never be forgotten. I am beyond lucky to have gotten the chance to work for him.”
Personally, the loss of Oscar is great because I grew up admiring both his gentle nature and grand designs. Unlike many designers who only focus on their vision, Oscar respected the needs and desires of his clients as much as he did his own integrity and artistry. While many, from Ralph Lauren to Anna Wintour, have honored him, what cemented the tragedy of death for me was a simple Facebook comment posted by a middle-aged woman in Buffalo, NY on an image of Oscar from a fashion page. She ended her post of remembrance by saying “If I were ever lucky enough to be rich, I would want to buy a dress designed by Oscar de la Renta.” This remark was a humble reminder that while for some Oscar was a friend, mentor, boss, and even the name on many labels in a wardrobe, to most, he was, and now tragically will always be, a dream.