Dominican designer working in New York
Born: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 22 July 1932. Education: Studied art, National School of Art, Santo Domingo, 1950-52; Academia de San Fernando, Madrid, 1953-55. Family: Married Françoise de Langlade, 1967 (died, 1983); married Annette Reed, 1989; children: Moises. Career: Staff designer under Balenciaga, Madrid, from 1949; assistant designer to Antonio Castillo, Lanvin-Castillo, Paris, 1961-63; designer, Elizabeth Arden couture and ready-to-wear, New York, 1963-65; partner/designer, Jane Derby Inc., New York, 1965-69; designer/chief executive, Oscar de la Renta Couture, Oscar de la Renta II, de la Renta Furs and Jewelry, Oscar de la Renta Ltd., from 1973; introduced signature perfume, 1977, followed by Ruffles, 1983, and Volupté, 1991; owner, de la Renta specialty shop, Santo Domingo, from 1968; designer, couture collection for Balmain, from 1992. Exhibitions: Versailles 1973: American Fashion on the World Stage, Metropolitan Museum of
On de la RENTA:
Morris, Bernadine, and Barbara Walz, The Fashion Makers, New York, 1978.
Diamonstein, Barbaralee, Fashion: The Inside Story, New York, 1985.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, Couture: The Great Designers, New York, 1985.
Perschetz, Lois, ed., W, The Designing Life, New York, 1987.
Coleridge, Nicholas, The Fashion Conspiracy, London, 1988.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York, 1989.
Martin, Richard, and Harold Koda, Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western Dress [exhibition catalogue], New York, 1994.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.
Carrillo, Louis, Oscar de la Renta, Austin, Texas, 1996.
Greenstein, S., "The Business of Being Oscar," in Vogue, May 1982.
"Françoise de la Renta," [obituary], in Variety, 22 June 1983.
Kornbluth, Jesse, "The Working Rich: The Real Slaves of New York," in New York, 24 November 1986.
Bentley, Vicci, "King of Ruffles," in Woman's Journal (London), November 1987.
Gross, Michael, "A Fitting with Oscar," in New York, 18 April 1988.
Howell, Georgina, "Charmed Circles," in Vogue, September 1989.
Hirshey, Gerri, "The Snooty Dame at the Block Party," in the New York Times Magazine, 24 October 1993.
Schiro, Anne-Marie, "Tasteful Comes in Many Colors," in the New York Times, 4 November 1994.
Beckett, Kathleen, "Runway Report: My One and Only Hue—Oscar de la Renta," in the New York Post, 4 November 1994.
"New York: Oscar de la Renta," in WWD, 4 November 1994.
"New York: Oscar de la Renta," in WWD, 7 April 1995.
Brown, Jeanette, "From Looking Good to Doing Good," in Business Week, 9 November 1998.
"The Look of Oscar de la Renta," in InStyle, 1 February 2001.
Horyn, Cathy, "Creating a Fantasy Life Beyond the Seams," in the New York Times, 14 February 2001.
Lockwood, Lisa, "Oscar's Evolutionary Theory," in WWD, 13 June 2001.
"Oscar's Winners," in Town & Country, July 2001.
"Casa de la Renta," in InStyle, 1 August 2001.
"Fashion of the Times," in the New York Times, Autumn 2001.
"Fall 2001 Ready to Wear," available online at Style.com , 28 October 2001.
Although he was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to New York at the age of 30, Oscar de la Renta has become a great ambassador for American fashion. His appointment as designer to the French couture house of Pierre Balmain in 1992 was a historic occasion—the first time an American designer had been commissioned by French haute couture. The choice in many ways reflected the growing eminence of New York as a fashion force and the international status of American designers.
As a designer, de la Renta has inspired many international trends. During the 1960s, his clothes were elaborate and witty parodies of experimental street fashion: jackets and coats of bandanna-printed denim, embroidered hot pants under silk minidresses, or caftans made out of silk chiffon and psychedelic silk saris. He was largely responsible for initiating the ethnic fashion of the 1970s with gypsy and Russian fashion themes incorporating fringed shawls, boleros, peasant blouses, and full skirts. In the 1990s de la Renta was popular for his romantic evening clothes, glamorous, elegant, and made from richly opulent fabrics such as brocade, transparent chiffon, fox fur, ermine, and embroidered faille.
Throughout his career, de la Renta has concentrated on simple shapes and silhouettes to create dramatic and flashy statements. He has an inherent feeling for women's femininity and established fashion classics, such as variations of his portrait dresses in taffeta, chiffon, or velvet with ruffled necklines or cuffs, or his ornate luncheon suits, embroidered in costume jewelry and gold. Since founding his own company in 1967 to produce luxury women's ready-to-wear, de la Renta expanded to create jewelry, household linens, menswear, and perfumes. These products are marketed and sold all over Europe, Asia, and South and North America.
The designer had a well-traveled international fashion pedigree before establishing his own label business. He studied art at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid and began sketching for leading Spanish fashion houses, leading to a job at Balenciaga's Madrid couture house, Eisa. A move to Paris in 1961 brought him work as an assistant to Antonio De Castillo at Lanvin-Castillo. He moved with Castillo to New York in 1963 to design at Elizabeth Arden. Joining Jane Derby Inc. as a partner in 1965, he began operating as Oscar de la Renta Ltd. in 1973.
His first marriage to the late Françoise de la Langlade, editor-in-chief of French Vogue, in 1967 was an undoubted asset to de la Renta's business. Together they created soirées that were the equivalent of 18th-century salons. The environment enhanced the wearing of an Oscar de la Renta creation and provided valuable publicity, with frequent mentions in society columns. He has not forgotten his Dominican associations though and has been honored as its best-known native son and one of its most distinguished citizens with the Order de Merito de Juan Pablo Duarte. He also helped build a much needed school and daycare center in the republic for over 350 children.
Still designing in New York today, de la Renta continued to redefine American elegance with his famous womenswear line, Signature; the couture line, Studio; his ready-to-wear, and a range of sophisticated dresses and suits known as Miss. When in 2001 a signature line of accessories by de la Renta made its debut on the New York fashion scene, the designer was asked once again to describe the forces that influenced his design and sensibility. He told the New York Times ' "Fashion of the Times" column about the two places he lived as a child and young man, the Dominican Republic and Spain, and how they dramatically affected his work: "From my island side comes my love for the exotic, for color and light. From my Spanish side comes my love of gypsies and bullfighters," he said. And indeed, the new line of accessories—bags and shoes, boots and belts—repeats motifs familiar in de la Renta's earliest designs.
The drama and sexiness of high fashion is not ignored even in the simplest accessory. There is, after 36 years of design, a kind of rebirth for de la Renta in his accessories collection: "As clothes become more minimalist, you can tell who a woman really is by her accessories." And de la Renta's signature formula of casual, feminine, graceful, and comfortable yet elegant clothes prevails. If a design itself is very simple, then the materials used are luxurious. Utilitarian boots, for example, take on an entirely new status with heavy embroidery. If a particular design is complicated, then de la Renta edits the colors or the fabrics to produce a consistently wearable and classic line of clothing and accessories.
In 2001 de la Renta launched a fall collection for Balmain combining his love of the ethnic influence (Spanish-Russian) with hot colors and sleek sophisticated styling. Oscar de la Renta continues to be a major presence in the contemporary fashionable world.
updated by Kathleen Bonann Marshall