By Kenneth Richard | The Impressionist
Oscar de la Renta, a pioneer in American fashion whose career spanned red carpets to dressing American first ladies, died after a long battle with cancer Monday at the age of 82 in his home in Kent, Conn.
His strong color sense and feminine design styling, delightful sense of humor, diplomacy and charm made him a favorite amongst the international social set dressing First Ladies, hollywood royalty, and socialites. He was a favorite designer of Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Lauren Bush as well as recently dressing Michelle Obama. Over the last 10 years Mr. de la Renta’s name became linked to red carpet events from the Oscars to Cannes dressing the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Amy Adams, Sandra Bullock, Scarlett Johansson, and Kerry Washington.
As recent as last month he made international headlines dressing Amal Alamuddin in an ivory tulle gown to wed George Clooney in Venice.
Oscar Aristedes de la Renta was born the youngest of seven children in Santo Domingo on July 22, 1932. He finished high school in Santo Domingo and rather than join his family’s insurance business persuaded his parents to send him to Madrid to study art. At the age of 19, a year after his mother death, Mr. de la Renta left Santo Domingo via ship for postwar Madrid to enrich himself in their culture.
Always one to balance the riches life has to offer Mr. de la Renta soon found himself amongst the cafe set and took to drawing clothes for extra money from fashion houses. In 1956, Francesca Lodge, the wife to the then United States ambassador to Spain, asked Mr. de la Renta to design a coming-out dress for her daughter Beatrice who went on to appear on the cover of Life magazine in the dress. Soon after Mr. de la Renta found himself working in the Madrid salon of the Spanish couturier master, Cristobal Balenciaga.
Looking to venture to the central studio in Paris, Mr. de la Renta requested to be transferred but was told he needed to wait a year by Mr. Balenciaga. Rather than stay to continue sketching dresses for clients, Mr. de la Renta left on his own to Paris and was immediately taken in by the house of Lanvin where he remained from 1961 to 1963.
Seeing an opportunity to spread his wings, Mr. de la Renta moved to New York where he joined Elizabeth Arden to work on her couture line. After several years he left Arden to join Jane Derby as partner and designer, eventually taking over after she retired and launching the house of Oscar de la Renta in 1965.
In 1991 and 1992 Mr. de la Renta chose to present his ready-to-wear collections in Paris becoming overnight an ambassador for American fashion. Subsequently the house of Pierre Balmain asked Mr. de la Renta to be their Creative Director. From 1993-2002 Mr. de la Renta took on dual roles designing his namesake collection as well as designing for the house of Pierre Balmain in Paris becoming the first designer of his generation to do so paving the way for a new generation of American designers working overseas.
In 1967 and 1968, Mr. de la Renta won the Coty Awards, chosen by a jury of fashion editors and in 1973 was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame. He was given a lifetime achievement award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1989 and went on to received the Council of Fashion Designers Designer of the Year Award in 2000.
From 1973 to 1976, and from 1986 to 1988, he served as President of the CFDA.
In addition to his wife, Annette, Mr. de la Renta is survived by his three step-children Beatrice Reed, Charlie Reed and Eliza Bolen; his son Moyses de la Renta; three sisters, all of whom reside in the Dominican Republic, and nine grandchildren.
Mr. de la Renta was equally known for his colorful personality as well as his colorful clothes and will be remembered for making our industry and lives a little brighter.