The world mourned the loss of a prominent figure in the fashion industry this past week. On Monday, Oct. 20, Oscar de la Renta passed away from cancer, leaving behind the memory of his iconic designs and impeccable style. Oscar de la Renta was not only a legendary designer in the clothing industry, but also a philanthropist, socialite and a dear friend of a Wellesley alumna, Hillary Clinton.
Oscar’s climb towards international success started out in a middle class family on a Caribbean island. The Dominican Republic-born boy left his home at the age of 18 to study art in Spain; however, his path was turned towards the fashion industry when his talent was recognized by the U.S. Ambassador to Spain at the time. De la Renta’s first gown design was worn by the ambassador’s daughter and featured in Life magazine. At that moment, the young man launched with high velocity into the strange and exciting realm of high fashion.
Though new to Europe, de la Renta obtained an internship under the renowned Cristóbal Balenciaga, whom he considered his mentor, and later at the House of Lanvin-Castillo in France. His keen eye for detail and refined concept of style and elegance fit perfectly with the turbulent industry of ever-changing fashion. He knew exactly what women wanted to look like, and perfected the means to achieve it. De la Renta’s success was largely accredited to his designs, but his social prowess also played a key role. His genuine kindness but fierce ambitions led him overseas where he took over the Jane Derby fashion house in America, and later, the French house of Balmain.
Many have praised de la Renta’s designs for their dramatic play on bold colors and their feminine elegance and charm. Among those who’ve admired and donned his dresses are the first ladies of America, including Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama. He once said, “Fashion is non-political and non-partisan,” which evidently proved true when both Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush selected de la Renta to create their inaugural ball gowns. De la Renta helped cultivate Clinton’s infamous pant suit style, maintaining a conservative look while staying fashionable. More recently, he designed an iconic, autographed dress worn by Sarah Jessica Parker for the 2014 Met Gala, and, as his last work, the wedding gown of Amal Clooney, George Clooney’s wife. His works have made appearances on countless occasions ranging from political cocktail parties to major red carpet events; his death marked the end of an unforgettable lifetime of achievement.
Many of de la Renta’s enthusiasts publicly mourned his death on various forms of social media in the past week. Singer Taylor Swift grieved at the death of “her favorite designer” on Twitter, model Karlie Kloss instagrammed a picture of her with the designer and the Clintons said they “lost a dear friend.” Editor-in-chief of Vogue Anna Wintour recounted sentimental memories she and the designer shared together. An official statement was released by de la Renta’s stepdaughter and son-in-law describing his passing: “He died exactly as he lived: with tremendous grace, great dignity and very much on his own terms.”
At 82, de la Renta fulfilled a life brimming with international recognition. Though he is no longer with us today, his vivid prints, elegant necklines and historically iconic gowns have collectively influenced the fashion industry indefinitely.
Graphic by Lia Wang ’16