Looking back on the life of an iconic designer…
Last month the world lost a style icon. On October 20 2014 the world renowned fashion designer Oscar De la Renta passed away at the age of 82 due to cancer. Today we look back on his life and work, and pay homage to the man who thought it an honour to “make beautiful clothes all year round.”
De la Renta was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. In his early twenties, having impressed the wife of the U.S. ambassador to Spain, he was commissioned to design a dress for her daughter which later appeared on the cover of U.S. magazine ‘Life.’ This was the moment that brought De la Renta to the attention of the fashion world and began his career as an acclaimed designer.
His passion for dress design led him to train with the likes of co turier Cristóbal Balenciaga and Lanvin’s Antonio del Castillo, before going on to work for Balmain. However, it was his work creating ready-to-wear clothes with Arden that allowed De la Renta to climb the ladder and eventually launch his own label.
Dressing every First Lady throughout his career, from Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama, as well as a host of A-list starlets and U.S. socialites, his gowns make regular appearances at the most talked about events of the year. They can be spotted at the Met Gala, the Oscars and the BAFTAs, and his hugely popular Fashion Week shows garner enormous media attention.Furthermore, De La Renta made Jackie Kennedy the style icon of the 60s, and Sarah Jessica Parker the talk of the town at the 2014 Met Gala, proving himself a timeless presence.
What made De la Renta so outstanding as a designer was his ability to understand every individual woman he dressed, so as to accentuate her beauty no matter her body shape. His gowns gave women such confidence that they naturally displayed a graceful disposition.
His trademark style is traditionally conservative dresses that reveal a little skin, beautifully intricate lace work and, most uniquely, his signature incorporated into the fabric.
De la Renta has been hailed as the first designer to make dresses that are, as journalist Tanya Basu expresses, ‘undeniably American’ and ‘focussed on the American woman, her needs, her cultural outlook, her sense of practicality but desire to be beautiful.’ Oscar himself stated that “I want to make clothes that people will wear, not styles that will make a big splash on the runway”. Of course, it’s unlikely to see a girl in a club twirling in a floor length gown, but in identifying his target clients as ‘sophisticated working women’, a first lady attending a ball, for example, is perhaps the perfect setting for one of his creations to make an appearance.
De la Renta’s work has a timeless elegance to it that doesn’t often appear on high fashion runways anymore. Fashion now tends to demand over-exaggeration, edginess and shock factor to be deemed unique. This is seen most distinctly if you peruse some of the looks of 2013, such as Alexander Wang dressing one of his models in oversized fluffy boxing gloves or Jeremey Scott’s emoticon dress worn by a model with rainbow-coloured hair. Both of which, I might add, looked neither like couture nor high street fashion, but the work of an overexcited toddler.
Why is it now that getting noticed in the fashion industry has become associated not with beauty but brutality? Is it really so wrong for women in the 21st century to dream of being dressed in classic gowns that hark back to the days of Audrey Hepburn?
What made De la Renta so outstanding as a designer was his ability to understand every individual woman he dressed, so as to accentuate her beauty no matter her body shape. His gowns gave women such confidence that they naturally displayed a graceful disposition. Oscar De la Renta’s stunning gowns will go down in history, along with their creator’s ingenuity, as the perfect epitome of the American woman. I for one hope to see a resurgence of this type of nostalgic, elegant fashion on the runways next year, rather than the predictable ‘tomboy chic’ that is becoming so commonplace.