Oscar de la Renta, who died Monday night at the age of 82, was arguably America's most influential fashion designer, a star because he understood beauty.
The go-to-couturier for first ladies, actresses and ladies who lunch, a de la Renta design was an illustrious stamp of high society. He was a master of the hourglass silhouette, the king of waist-interest: See the strapless, pink, feathery confection Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw's wore on her dream date with Alexander Petrovsky.
Lacy wedding dresses were his dominion, too. His last to wow the public was the magnificent gown Amal Alamuddin wore the day she married George Clooney. Hours before he died, de la Renta's fashion house announced it would carry a bridal gown inspired by hers.
Oh, how de la Renta - always the tanned, quintessential gentleman - spoke to our stylish souls. There was no one in the fashion world like him.
Even first lady Michelle Obama had acquiesced to de la Renta's greatness. After he criticized Obama three years ago for not wearing enough American designers (read: his), the first lady donned a navy blue de la Renta fit-and-flare two weeks ago at a White House all-day fashion workshop for high school students.
Of course, she looked splendid.
My first ever fashion show I attended in New York was an Oscar de la Renta for one simple reason: I knew who he was.
Yet it wasn't until I took my seat under the Bryant Park tents that I truly understood his talent. Models floated down the runway in fur, silk taffeta ball gowns, pantsuits tailored to a T, all under glistening chandeliers (there was always some sort of chandelier). Just by sitting in the fifth row, I was participating in a sparkling, elegant, fantasy where every woman was beautiful.
Unlike many of today's red carpet designers, his pieces are ageless - as radiant on Taylor Swift as they are on Oprah Winfrey. To de la Renta, diversity was beauty, and that was always refreshing.
Locally, de la Renta was a favorite of Academy of Music Anniversary Ball attendees. Nearly each and every year Adele Schaeffer, chair of the board of trustees, wears a de la Renta gown, as does public relations maven Kelly Boyd.
De la Renta was born in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, in 1932 to a Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father - a family of aristocrats.
He apprenticed under European fashion greats Cristobal Balenciaga and Antonio Del Castillo, but his career took off in the 1960s when he became one of the first designers to dress Jacqueline Kennedy. He often dressed her in tea-length dresses with bows at the waist, a look that would eventually become a signature of his. In 1977 he introduced a line of perfume, called Oscar, and the following year came an accessories line.
The fashion world will mourn de la Renta. With his unparalleled fashion sense, he made the world a more civilized place.
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