The death of world-famous fashion designer Oscar de la Renta at the age of 82 at his home in Kent, Conn., has impacted fashion worldwide. His elegant, glamorous designs have been worn by celebrities, politicians, socialites and fans of high fashion for almost 60 years, and, just last month, a de la Renta wedding dress was worn by Amal Clooney. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported on the health of de la Renta as “precarious.” He had been diagnosed in 2006 with cancer and was described as looking “frail” at his September women’s wear show.
De la Renta was born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. He grew up in a middle-class household with six sisters, and traveled to Spain in order to study the art of painting under Cristobal Balenciaga. He later relocated to Paris and worked at Balmain and Lanvin. After moving to New York, he designed with Elizabeth Arden until introducing his ready-to-wear label in New York in 1965. He became world famous when Jacqueline Kennedy wore his elegant designs in the 1960s. Over the years, his label grew into a legendary force in the fashion world, selling not only clothing with price tags of thousands of dollars, but also accessories, perfume and even furniture.
The Dominican-born designer was the first Latino to be accepted in the exclusive world of Paris fashion. After becoming a citizen of the U.S., de la Renta was the first American designer to create clothing for a French couture line.
The designer’s grand creations, which blended the sensuality of Latin American designs, the elegance of European fashion houses and the versatility of American fashion, were popular among socialites and celebrities. Among the stars to wear his fashions are Lea Michele, Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jennifer Garner, to name just a few. De la Renta himself was as much a fixture on the red carpet as his designs and was known for being perpetually tan and always smiling.
In addition to celebrities, de la Renta was very popular among a number of First Ladies. He designed clothing for Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton’s outfit for the 1997 swearing-in ceremony and Laura Bush’s 2005 inaugural ball gown. Current First Lady Michelle Obama wore a de la Renta dress just last month.
During an event for the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in 2012, he confirmed to the crowd that he had been diagnosed with cancer, but said that he was now “totally clean.” He also revealed that having had cancer made him “appreciate every single day of life.”
De la Renta’s first marriage, to Francoise de Langlade, ended in 1983 when she died of bone cancer. A short time after the death of his wife, he adopted a Dominican boy from an orphanage in his home country. He married Annette Engelhard Reed, a 74-year-old socialite, in 1989.
Just last week, his design house made the announcement that it had appointed Peter Copping as the label’s creative director. Legendary designer Oscar de la Renta is remembered tonight for his fashion, his keen business acumen and for being a gentleman.
By Jennifer Pfalz