Beloved by first ladies, socialites and starlets, Dominican Catholic also supported charities
NEW YORK (AP) — At his Fashion Week runway show in September, Oscar de la Renta sat in his usual spot: in a chair right inside the wings, where he could carefully inspect each model just as she was about to emerge in one of his sumptuous, impeccably constructed designs.
At the end of the show, the legendary designer himself emerged, supported by two of his models. He didn’t walk on his own, and didn’t go far, but he was beaming from ear to ear. He gave each model a peck on the cheek, and then returned to the wings, where models and staff could be heard cheering him enthusiastically.
De la Renta, who dressed first ladies, socialites and Hollywood stars for more than four decades, died Monday evening at his Connecticut home at age 82, only six weeks after that runway show. But not before another high-profile honor was bestowed on him: The most famous bride in the world, Amal Alamuddin, wore a custom, off-the-shoulder de la Renta gown to wed George Clooney in Venice. Photos of the smiling designer perched on a table at the dress fitting appeared in Vogue.
De la Renta died surrounded by family, friends and "more than a few dogs," according to a handwritten statement signed by his stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband, Alex Bolen. The statement did not specify a cause of death, but de la Renta had spoken in the past of having cancer.
"While our hearts are broken by the idea of life without Oscar, he is still very much with us. Oscar’s hard work, his intelligence and his love of life are at the heart of our company," the statement said. "All that we have done, and all that we will do, is informed by his values and his spirit."
The late ’60s and early ’70s were a defining moment in U.S. fashion as New York-based designers carved out a look of their own that was finally taken seriously by Europeans. De la Renta and his peers, including the late Bill Blass, Halston and Geoffrey Beene, defined American style — and their influence is still spotted today.
De la Renta’s specialty was eveningwear, though he also was known for chic daytime suits favored by the women who would gather at the Four Seasons or Le Cirque at lunchtime. His signature looks were voluminous skirts, exquisite embroideries and rich colors.
Earlier this month, first lady Michelle Obama notably wore a de la Renta dress for the first time. De la Renta had criticized her several years earlier for not wearing an American label to a state dinner in 2011.
Among Obama’s predecessors favoring de la Renta were Laura Bush, who wore an icy blue gown by de la Renta to the 2005 inaugural ball, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wore a gold de la Renta in 1997.
"We will miss Oscar’s generous and warm personality, his charm, and his wonderful talents." Bush said in a statement. "My daughters and I have many fond memories of visits with Oscar, who designed our favorite clothes, including Jenna’s wedding dress. We will always remember him as the man who made women look and feel beautiful."
A statement from former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, said: "Oscar’s remarkable eye was matched only by his generous heart. His legacy of philanthropy extended from children in his home country who now have access to education and health care, to some of New York’s finest artists whose creativity has been sustained through his support."
De la Renta made just as big a name for himself on the Hollywood red carpet — with actresses of all ages. Penelope Cruz and Sandra Bullock were among the celebrities to don his feminine and opulent gowns. His clothes even were woven into episodes of "Sex and the City," with its style icon, Carrie Bradshaw, comparing his designs to poetry.