Designer to the stars dies at 82

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Published: Tuesday 21st October 2014 by The News Editor

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Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, a favourite of socialites and Hollywood stars, has died.

Dominican-born de la Renta, 82, – who also lived in Spain and France before coming to New York – was among a group of designers that also included Bill Blass and Geoffrey Beene who helped put the US on the map in the late 1960s as a home of serious fashion.

His speciality was elaborate, embroidered evening wear. First ladies Laura Bush and Hilary Clinton wore de la Renta gowns to inaugural balls and Penelope Cruz and Sandra Bullock wore his work on the red carpet.

De la Renta catered mostly to his socialite friends and neighbours, but eyed more mass appeal with several fragrances and accessories licences.

His clothes were even woven into episodes of Sex And The City with style icon character Carrie Bradshaw dropping his name – and comparing his designs to poetry.

De la Renta’s path to New York’s Seventh Avenue took an unlikely route. He left his native Dominican Republic at 18 to study painting in Spain but soon became sidetracked by fashion.

The wife of the US ambassador to Spain saw some of his sketches and asked him to make a dress for her daughter – a dress that landed on the cover of Life magazine.

That led to an apprenticeship with Cristobal Balenciaga, and then de la Renta moved to France to work for couture house Lanvin. By 1963, he was working for Elizabeth Arden couture in New York and in 1965 had launched his own label.

He said his Hispanic roots worked their way into his designs. “I like light, colour, luminosity. I like things full of colour and vibrant,” he said.

While de la Renta made Manhattan his primary home, he often visited the Dominican Republic and kept a home there. Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour was a frequent visitor and she has said travelling with him was like travelling with the president. “He’s a superstar,” she said.

He also had a country home in northwestern Connecticut. Gardening and dancing were among his favourite diversions from work. “I’m a very restless person. I’m always doing something. The creative process never stops,” he said.

As a designer, de la Renta always catered to his socialite friends and neighbours – he and his wife Annette were fixtures on the black-tie charity circuit – but he did make occasional efforts to reach the masses, including launching a mid-priced line in 2004 and developing a dozen or so perfumes, the first, called Oscar, was introduced in 1977 and more recently, Rosamor, hit the market.

He was an avid patron of the arts, serving as a board member of The Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall, among others, and devoted considerable time to children’s charities, including New Yorkers for Children. He also helped fund schools and day-care centres in La Romana and Punta Cana in his native country.

The Dominican Republic honoured de la Renta with the order al Merito de Juan Pablo Duarte and the order of Cristobol Colon. In the US he received the Coty American Fashion Critics Award twice, was named womenswear designer of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2000 and also received a lifetime achievement award from the CFDA – an organisation for which he served as president in the 1980s.

In addition to his own label, de la Renta spearheaded the Pierre Balmain collection from 1993-2002, marking the first time an American designed for a French couture house, and he was awarded the French Legion d’Honneur as a Commandeur. He also received the Gold Medal Award from the king and queen of Spain.

He gave up the title of chief executive of his company in 2004, handing over business duties to stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband Alex Bolen, but he remained active on the design end, continuing to show his collections during New York Fashion Week.

De la Renta is also survived by an adopted son, Moises, a designer at the company.

His first wife, French Vogue editor Francoise de Langlade, died in 1983.

Published: Tuesday 21st October 2014 by The News Editor

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