Oscar de la Renta

Life magazine, 1956

Oscar de la Renta’s big break

If you’ve spent any time on the internet this week (which we know you have!), you’ve noticed all the tributes pouring in for legendary designer Oscar de la Renta, who tragically died from cancer three days ago. His amazing designs and genuinely kind personality transformed the fashion world from the retro era to our modern times. We know his legacy will live on, but we’d like to honor his personal history now. Have you owned or worn an Oscar de la Renta original? How did it make you feel to wear it? Share with us in the comments!

Oscar de la Renta | History

The youngest of seven children, de la Renta was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 1932. His family was well-connected and social, so his childhood was spent around his country’s great thinkers and innovators. These interactions influenced his young adult life; he ventured to Spain to study painting and began to do fashion illustrations on the side for extra money. That hobby soon proved very fruitful as his work was noticed by the wife of the US Ambassador to Spain. She asked de la Renta to design a gown for their daughter’s debut and it appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine in the Fall of 1956.

This exposure paved the way for an apprenticeship with Cristóbal Balenciaga. The mentorship and guidance he received here would continue to impact his collections for years to come. By the early 1960s de la Renta transitioned to the role of couture assistant, alongside Antonio del Castillo at Lanvin and Balmain. Yet by the middle of the decade, he was ready for a different kind of challenge. Following the career advice of Diana Vreeland, he worked for Elizabeth Arden in New York, honing his ready-to-wear skills. Arden promoted de la Renta’s name on the label and the publicity helped him establish his own design house in 1965.

From Life Magazine

Oscar de la Renta, putting on the final touches

It was around this time that he started dressing Jackie Kennedy. Her iconic status helped de la Renta gain more international attention. His impact on culture was noticed by his peers as well. In 1967 and ’68, he won the coveted Coty Award. (Five years later he was inducted into their hall of fame.)

During these years, de la Renta was also the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, or CFDA. This association of fashion and accessory designers rallied together to create their own awards system, free from the conflicts of interest the beauty company, Coty, could have in the selection process. In 1990, he received their lifetime achievement award. As his brand grew, it evolved from ready-to-wear, into other design genres: children’s wear, bridal, accessories, home products, fragrances, and eye wear.

Photo by Matt Hillig

Oscar de la Renta

Oscar de la Renta | Legacy

Oscar de la Renta was a brilliant designer for many reasons, but perhaps the basis for this lies in his ability to apply real-life influences to the artistry of his creations. An appreciation for heritage was the foundation of his success. For example, de la Renta’s upbringing in the tropical setting of the Dominican Republic inspired his colorful and bright outlook on fashion. That cheerfulness translated to clothing and elements that focused on details, textures, and movement.

His time in Paris was spent surrounded by sumptuous fabrics and ornate components. The luxurious feeling and weight of these pieces are conveyed in his romantic and feminine bridal collections especially.

From Wikipedia

Felicity Huffman in Oscar de la Renta

As the go-to designer for first ladies and actresses alike, it could have been very easy for de la Renta to have a laser-like focus on the red carpet glitz. But he never got distracted by the runway, clothes always had to make sense – they had to be well-crafted and suited to the wonderful women who introduced them into their lives.

For de la Renta, fashion was not a stand alone piece – once it was worn, once a woman graced it with her presence – that’s when the make or break moment occurred. That second is when fashion happened. His personal strength in the face of cancer mirrored the way he empowered women with his work and it’s why you’re seeing an outpouring of love and appreciation from celebrities and working women alike.

Cause A Frockus would like to thank LIFE magazine, Oscar de la Renta, The New York Times, Vogue, and the people who post their images without restriction.

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