Oscar de la Renta: Tributes to the man who styled first ladies, socialites, and stars

Former US first lady Laura Bush has led tributes to Oscar de la Renta, the worldly gentlemandesigner who shaped the wardrobe of socialites and Hollywood stars for more than 40 years.

Oscar de la Renta: Tributes to the man who styled first ladies, socialites, and stars

De la Renta, 82, died at his home in Connecticut surrounded by family and friends and “more than a few dogs”, his stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband Alex Bolen said.

“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,” their 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 1960s and early 1970s 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 spotted today.

De la Renta’s speciality was evening wear, 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 included voluminous skirts, exquisite embroideries, and rich colours.

Human rights lawyers Amal Alamuddin recently wore a de la Renta-designed dress when she married George Clooney.

Bush wore an icy blue de la Renta gown to the 2005 inaugural ball and Hillary 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 opulent gowns.

His clothes were even woven into episodes of Sex And The City with style icon character Carrie Bradshaw comparing his designs to poetry.

Bush said: “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.”

Supermodel Naomi Campbell tweeted: The Gentleman of Fashion you will always be!!! R I P.

De la Renta’s path to New York’s Seventh Avenue took an unlikely route. He left his native Dominican Republic at 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 design 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.

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 said travelling with him was like travelling with the president. “He’s a superstar,” she said.

He did make occasional efforts to reach the masses, including launching a mid-priced line in 2004 and developing perfumes.

In the US, he received the American Fashion Critics Award twice, was named womenswear designer of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2000.

As well as his own label, de la Renta spearheaded the Pierre Balmain collection from 1993 to 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.

He gave up the title of chief executive of his company in 2004, handing over business duties to stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband Alex Bolen, but he remained active on the design end.

More in this section

Lifestyle
Newsletter

The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up