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Oscar de la Renta. Even the name brings to mind the timeless elegance of clean lines and voluminous pleats, placed against a lavish backdrop of tule or batik.
When I think of Oscar de la Renta designs, I think of exuberance and vitality, mixed between layers of the avant-garde and wrapped primly and placed firmly in the realm of sophistication. The first time I laid eyes on an Oscar de la Renta design was while watching Audrey Hepburn slide demurely across the screen and into my heart in Sabrina. I fell madly in love with her gown during the dinner party scene. It was a beautiful construction of black and white, two colors that on paper seem inevitably boring, but somehow Oscar infused the dress with an element of drama I had never really seen. The lush full train, the trim waist, the off the shoulder fit with sweetheart neckline–it was enough to make the burgeoning fashionista in me squeal with glee. So when I heard of his passing, it was with a great sadness, as he was not just a designer, but an icon, a legend among his peers.
The son of a prominent family in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, he was originally set to study art, but he chose fashion, both of which are in the same vein some would say. Under the tutelage of individuals such as Elizabeth Arden (née Florence Graham) he flourished and presented his clothing to a world that quickly began to love his use of strong, yet flattering, lines with the subdued use of color and contrast. He dressed dignitaries and celebrities, and was responsible for reshaping the ways in which many women made their sartorial choices. Some of my favorite Oscar de la Renta designs could be seen floating down the red carpet, laced across stars like Cameron Diaz and Beyonce, who famously posed wearing his flowing red gown last year. He even dressed Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and helped define conservative chic.
I think what made his designs so popular among many was the fact that his clothing was accessible. He knew what worked and made clothing that looked good on different body types. He had his detractors of course, and some would say that he didn’t take enough risks. He wasn’t as cutting edge as some would have liked, but good intentions have often been the foundation of many a misguided fashion faux pas. With Oscar, it was understood that nice attire sometimes required a classic look.
I never thought his style was boring. I’ve always enjoyed seeing the sumptuous fabrics he employed, as well as the way he could take something so simple and elevate it to stunning. His contemporaries may have dabbled in the more trendy fashions of the moment, but he stayed true to his calling, and in doing so, created a staple that many aspiring designers look up to.
I always looked forward to seeing the looks his fashion house would present during fashion week, most recently his Spring 2015 collection, that was filled with bright florals, plaids and delicate lace. Though I know his brand will continue to move forward, it is with a bit of disquiet and possibly a touch of nostalgia that I will endure life without the great Oscar de la Renta.