This week Hillary Clinton will host an exhibition honouring the work of Oscar de la Renta. To celebrate we look back at how the designer influenced the world of fashion with his creative vision.
Oscar de la Renta has dressed everyone. From pretty much every First Lady in recent history (though his relationship with Michelle Obama is said to be a little rocky) to royalty and Hollywood A-listers. But why are his designs so loved? Let’s take a look.
Hillary Clinton has never pretended to be a big fan of fashion, but when it comes to Oscar de la Renta she makes an exception. The designer has been dressing Clinton ever since she became First Lady back in 1993. And, while she is hosting an exhibition over in the States to honour her friend’s career (Oscar de la Renta: American Icon opens Monday 8 July at the Clinton Presidential Centre), it’s not the first time the politician has sung de la Renta’s praises. At the 2013 CFDA Fashion Awards, she said of the designer: ‘His name alone evokes elegance and timeless beauty. And his designs give each of us a chance to feel like we’re special, too.’
Hillary Clinton at the CFDA Awards wearing Oscar de la Renta
Born in 1932 in the Dominican Republic, he left the island when he was 18 to study art at the The Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. During his time in Spain he landed an apprenticeship with Cristóbal Balenciaga, about his time with lauded designer, Oscar de la Renta has since said to André Leon Talley: ‘When Balenciaga came to Madrid, I was terrified. I hardly spoke. I just learned by looking and observing. He was like God to me.’
After that he travelled to Paris to become a couture assistant for Lanvin. After three years he set off for America where in 1963 he designed haute-couture gowns for the Elizabeth Arden’s custom-made clothing line, on the advice of then editor-in-chief of Vogue Diane Vreeland, at the time she told him: ‘Go to Arden because you will make your reputation faster. She is not a designer, so she will promote you. At the other place, you will always be eclipsed by the name of Dior.’ In 1965 his Oscar de la Renta label was launched.
A 1967 Oscar de la Renta design
Oscar de la Renta is best known for his striking couture-like ready-to-wear red carpet gowns and eveningwear. In the 1960s he told Palm Beach Daily News: ‘I design clothes for women to wear. I am not interested in shock tactics. I just want to make beautiful clothes.’ And that he does.
A show-stopping autumn/winter 2013 Oscar de la Renta design
The designer has dressed many a First Lady, including Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford, Laura Bush and, of course, his number one fan, Hillary Clinton. De la Renta has, however, openly criticised Michelle Obama’s fashion choices. He expressed his disappointment that Obama chose to wear an Alexander McQueen design to greet the Chinese president on an official visit rather than a look by a US-based designer, and made it known that he disapproved of the First Lady choosing to wear a cardigan to meet the Queen in 2012. About Michelle Obama, he said: ‘It is a relation that began poorly and I think it will end the same way.’
Laura Bush wearing Oscar de la Renta at George Bush’s 2005 inauguration ceremony
After the mini skirt trend of the 60s, Oscar de le Renta decided to champion long skirts, a move which upset some fashion fans. His response? ‘I’ve made a fashion statement – long skirts. If I am a fashion authority, which I am, it would be stupid for me to turn back now.’
Oscar de la Renta’s designs are always elegant and feminine
In 1977 the label’s first fragrance, Oscar, was launched. The fragrance collection has since expanded and features scents for both men and women and is sold in over 70 countries around the world.
From 1993 to 2002, de la Renta designed the haute couture collections for Pierre Balmain.
Oscar de la Renta takes a bow after the Balmain autumn/winter 2001 show
To further cement Oscar de la Renta‘s fashion power, an entire Sex and the City episode was based around Carrie Bradshaw receiving one of his iconic designs as a present by boyfriend Aleksandr Petrovsky..
Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw dancing in Oscar de la Renta
The designer has dressed many Hollywood stars for important red carpet appearances, including Cameron Diaz, Emma Watson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Biel, Amy Adams, Blake Lively, Tina Fey, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Williams, Nicole Kidman and Lea Michele.
Cameron Diaz wearing Oscar de la Renta at the 2010 Oscars
In 2006 Oscar de la Renta launched a bridal collection. He said: ‘My designs are known for their beautiful ornamentation, details, fabrics, and embroideries – which are never more important than on a wedding dress.’
Most recently Oscar de la Renta made headlines by going out on a limb and offering John Galliano his support following his fall from grace (he was fired from Christian Dior for making antisemitic comments). De la Renta offered him a three-week residency in his New York design studio. ‘I think John is doing all the right things,’ he said. ‘Everyone in life deserves a second chance, especially someone as talented as John. I think that life is about forgiving and helping people.’
After a career spanning five decades, de la Renta is still one of the world’s leading designers. His work is inspiring, romantic and timeless. We salute you, Mr de la Renta.