The world mourned the death of Oscar de la Renta, the “sultan of suave” in the fashion industry, Oct. 20, 2014. He died at 82-years-old due to his 8- year struggle with cancer complications, confirmed by his wife, Annette de la Renta.
De la Renta was born in the island of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on July 22, 1932. “…from my island comes my love for the exotic, for color and light,” said Oscar de la Renta in an interiew with the New York Times in 2002.
As his father’s only son in a household of 8 other women, de la Renta was expected to lead a career in finance or medicine. However, once a high school graduate, he chose to leave his homeland for Madrid and study art.
For extra money, he sketched clothes for newspapers and fashion houses, which led to the U.S. Ambassador at the time’s wife, Francesca Lodge, to stumble across one of his designs. Lodge took the initiative and gave de la Renta his first major career move when she asked him to design her daughter’s coming out dress which then made the cover of Life magazine that fall.
After de la Renta worked with the Lodge family, his career skyrocketed. He landed multiple fashion internships including shadowing and working with Cristobal Balenciaga in Spain, and then Christian Dior in Paris.
The Oscar de la Renta brand was officially launched in 1965, and he continued his debut as a couture designer in Paris in 1993 showing a collection for Pierre Balmain. Being the first American to design an important couture collection in Paris since 1940, famous, powerful and high- status people started craving his apparel. De la Renta dressed multiple celebrities, along with 4 American first ladies including Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush’s inaugural gown. De la Renta was also responsible for Hilary Clinton’s pantsuit.
“This man has been working for more than 20 years to turn me into a fashion icon,” Clinton said while presenting him with the Medal of Excellence at Carnegie Hall last April. This last October, Obama modeled a de la Renta creation at the Fashion Education Workshop at the White House.
“I will miss the celebrities walking down the red carpet and saying to myself, ‘Of course,’ when I’d see his work, because it was always the Hollywood glamour that I admired the most, and it would always end up being Oscar de la Renta’s work,” said fashion student and high fashion employee at Everything But Water, Jessica Crouttee.
De la Renta was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, however that did not stop his journey of fashion success. Throughout the eight years of constant battle, Oscar was relentless with his business, which rose 50 percent to $150 million in sales. Although de la Renta reached peak success, he always remained humble and modest.
De la Renta enhanced the fashion industry by not only creating magnificent, timeless pieces, but rather a style that will forever be remembered and idolized in fashion history.
“Oscar de la Renta was a visionary artist who not only believed in the future but created it ahead of his time. Because of him, I have a whole new perspective of fashion and dressing a woman’s body,” said aspiring designer and sales associate at Michael Kors, Jerry Nguyen.
“The fashion business says goodbye to a mentor, a legend and an icon,” designer Kenneth Cole tweeted the night of his death. “He defined a standard we can only aspire to.”
Published November 5, 2014