Oscar de la Renta has undoubtedly earned his reputation as one of the most successful designers in the fashion industry. After launching his line in 1965, his luxurious designs quickly became popular with wealthy and powerful women and have transcended time, still being worn by modern celebrities today.
De la Renta was born in the Dominican Republic on July 22, 1932. At 18 years old, he moved from his native country to Madrid, Spain to attend the Academy of San Fernando where he studied painting. After being exposed to the fashion world in Madrid, de la Renta pursued fashion instead. His gift for fashion illustration made him very valuable in the industry and he eventually landed and internship with renowned couturier Cristobal Balenciaga.
In 1961, de la Renta travelled to Paris where he was hired as a couture assistant at Lanvin-Castillo. While working for the fashion house, de la Renta fully immersed himself in the Parisian fashion scene. There, he honed his sketching skills and gained experience with couture design. He carried that knowledge and skill with him throughout his career.
Only two years after working for Lanvin-Castillo, de la Renta moved to New York to work for Elizabeth Arden designing couture gowns for the label’s custom clothing line. While working for the label, he gained valuable contacts that later enabled him to open his own fashion house. He was mentored by the then editor-in-chief of Vogue, Diana Vreeland, whose contacts were also very valuable.
In 1965, de la Renta began his own ready-to-wear fashion label. It quickly received widespread acclaim. The line became synonymous with luxury. De la Renta’s designs were easily identified by silk prints, ruffles, soft silhouettes, and vibrant colors. His looks were both modern and romantic, and women of wealth couldn’t get enough of them. For those who couldn’t afford his high-end fashion, de la Renta released his first perfume in 1977. Today, there are both men’s and women’s scents that are sold in over 70 countries all over the world.
In 1967, de la Renta married editor-in-chief of French Vogue, Francoise de Langlade. They were known as the fashion industry’s most powerful couple. It was through Francoise that de la Renta met many of the most influential people in fashion and his fashion shows were always attended by the most rich and famous people in society.
De la Renta lost his wife to bone cancer in 1983. Shortly after her death, he adopted a son from his native country of the Dominican Republic. In 1989, de la Renta married respected American publisher, philanthropist, and socialite, Annette Reed.
De la Renta was well-respected by his peers in the fashion industry. He was president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America from 1973 to 1976 and 1986 to 1988. During his time with the council, he launched the CFDA Awards, replacing the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Awards. In his lifetime, de la Renta ended up receiving the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award 1967 and 1968, a CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990, and the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year award in 2000. In 2007, he tied with Proenza Schouler for another CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year award.
In the 90s, de la Renta decided to take his line in a different direction. By the early 2000s, his pieces were preferred by important women in American politics such as the first ladies. He dressed first lady Nancy Reagan in the 80s as well as provided the inaugural gowns for both Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.
De la Renta’s talents expanded past just his own personal fashion line when he completely redesigned and revamped French fashion house, Pierre Balmain. Prior to de la Renta’s take-over, the fashion house had seen extremely disappointing sales.
In 2002, de la Renta pursued a new business venture and launched his home line, Oscar de la Renta Home. He was inspired by his various homes around the world, and created a line with three themes: city, island, and country. His line featured 100 pieces of furniture including couches, dining tables, and upholstered chairs.
“There is no more important expression of this concept than that of my own personal living space”, said the designer.
In 2004, de la Renta launched O Oscar, a less expensive clothing line. Despite the risk of lessening the value of his brand as a whole, de la Renta wanted to reach out to a new audience that he couldn’t before. Just two years after that, de la Renta launched his bridal line. The line became famous when Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, Carrie Bradshaw, famously wore one of his creations for her Vogue photoshoot in the first Sex and the City film.
“My designs are known for their beautiful ornamentation, details, fabrics, and embroideries – which are never more important than on a wedding dress,” de la Renta said.
De la Renta was very dedicated to helping those in his native country. He built La Casa del Niño, an orphanage and school for the children of La Romana. La Casa del Niño provides schooling and daycare to infants and children while their mothers are at work. It cares for about 1,200 children daily. In return, the Dominican Republic has honored him with the Order of Juan Pablo Duarte and the Order of Cristóbal Colón.
In 2013, de la Renta hired John Galliano to complete a temporary studio residency with the brand. This was Galliano’s first opportunity to return to the fashion industry after he was dismissed from Dior following a controversial video of him being released online, three people filing charges against him, and the brand’s spokesperson, Natalie Portman, refusing to be associated with him any longer.
In mid-October of 2014, de la Renta appointed designer Peter Copping as his successor of the label. De la Renta believed that actively participating in the transition of the brand and hand-picking his successor would ensure that the brand would have a future. De la Renta had also turned the brand into a family affair by hiring his adopted son Moises, his step-daughter Eliza, and his son-in-law Alex.
Just a week later, Oscar de la Renta passed away at the age of 82. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and had finally lost the long battle. He is survived by his wife, Annette, his son, Moises de la Renta; his three step-children, Beatrice Reed, Charlie Reed and Eliza Bolen; three sisters, who all live in the Dominican Republic; and nine grandchildren.
Oscar de la Renta’s funeral was filled with prominent designers, A-list celebrities, and other members of the fashion community such as Anna Wintour, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, Diane Von Furstenberg, Hugh Jackman, and Hillary Clinton.