The fashion world and I were saddened on Monday to hear of the passing of one of the great fashion designers of all times, Mr. Oscar de la Renta.
Graced with an indefatigable charm and talent, this designer was known for his feminine, romantic frocks. His confections were a throwback to a different, more glamorous era — much like the designer himself. It was Oscar and his contemporaries — Halston, Bill Blass, and a few others — who defined American style in the 60’s and 70’s, paving the way for future American designers to be taken seriously among the couture houses of Europe. He was known for his liberal deployment of taffeta and never shied away from bright, vibrant colors and voluminous skirts in his evening wear collections. “There is no sound more feminine than a woman in a taffeta dress,” he once said.
But de la Renta rose to prominence after dressing then-First Lady Jacquelyn Kennedy. In a career that spanned some 50-plus years, de la Renta dressed everyone from first ladies to virtually every celebrity. Human rights lawyer and activist Amal Clooney donned a truly spectacular de la Renta gown when she married actor George Clooney last month. His gowns are synonymous with glamour and high society.
Then there were, “The Ladies Who Lunch”! The Fabulous and fashionable women who met for lunch all wearing Oscar and looking like they had just finished a photo shoot. These lovelies’s were: Barbara Walters, Liz Smiths, Aileen Mehlee, Judy Taubmans, Mica Ertegun, Lynn Wyatt, Princess Firyal, Mercedes Bass, the Louise Grunwald, Susan Gutfreund, Deeda Blair, Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Slim Keith, C. Z. Guest, the Duchess of Windsor, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. No one holds that kind of power and glamour anymore, and to be frank, it is hard to see anyone taking his place. Those were truly the days when Fashion was Fashion. An end of an era.
After the launch of his ready-to-wear line, de la Renta soon expanded into fragrance, a home collection and furniture. I had the great opportunity to work with Mr. de la Renta when he launched his Oscar de la Renta fragances in 1988. Dressed in one of his drop dead body hugging gold sequined gowns, shoes to match and his fabulous earrings, I had the honor of traveling an entire day with him, by his side, and learned that being famous didn’t seem to have affected him in any way.
Handsome, a gentlemen, manners like I’ve never encountered truly described him to a tee. Standing tall in a grey suit, blue pin striped shirt and stunning gold tie, he spoke with sincerity and passion. He truly was a gentlemen.
As the day came to an end and my time to say thank you and good-bye was near, he asked if I would like a bottle of his fragrance signed? “Of course I would love that” was my answer.
He signed the box that it came in, handed it to me and kissed both sides of my face. He said “thank you so much for escorting me around, you looked fabulous in my dress and I hope to see you again sometime”. He smiled, and off he went.
I stood there pinching myself, making sure this was all real and not a dream. I guess you could say I felt like Cinderella—only better. I still have that bottle of parfume, the box has never been opened until today. I don’t think Oscar would mind, do you?
Years later, my son’s grandmother had found out that I worked with Oscar who was one of her favorite designers. She had a few pieces from him and she knew I loved his designs. So one Christmas while having lunch with her, she reached inside her purse and pulled out this beautifully wrapped present for me. As I pulled the bow, took off the wrapping paper and opened the lid, there before me was a pair of colorful chandelier gem earrings made by who else but Oscar de la Renta.
To this day I also have them wrapped in beautiful paper in a bag tucked away waiting for that special occasion that would only be fitting for the man who’s designs have influenced the world for 50+ years.
In closing, I bid farewell to the man who was a gentlemen and who’s mission in life was to make women look beautiful. As Oscar once said “I have always felt my role as a designer is to do the very best I can for a woman to make her look her best. Fashion is only fashion once a woman puts it on.”
Turn It On Oscar, I know you’ll always look fab!
Founder of Turn It On Fitness
Fitness Wear for “Every Wear”