The fashion world has lost one of its greatest designers. Oscar de la Renta died Oct. 20. He was an absolute genius when it came to style, fashion design and the best way to dress a woman. One of his latest designs was worn by actor George Clooney’s bride, Amal Alamuddin, for their recent wedding ceremony in Italy. He has dressed every first lady after Jacqueline Kennedy, including Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush, and created the colorful pantsuits worn by Hillary Clinton. Michelle Obama donned one of his designs this year at the Fashion Education workshop at the White House.
He has always been a favorite designer of this editor. On his way up, he worked with famed designer Cristobal Balenciaga and designed for Elizabeth Arden. He launched his own brand in 1965.
I recall the excitement of viewing his collections at press previews and being treated very nicely whenever I called or visited his showroom, often to fetch information or obtain an invitation. Among all of the awards he received, he was extremely proud to be honored by the Dominican Studies Institute with a special award at their 15th anniversary celebration at City University of New York. It was a very elegant black-tie affair at City College with a VIP guest list that included Rep. Charles Rangel. There were opening remarks by Dr. Gregory Williams, president of City College, as well as Ana Garcia Reyes, Dr. Mathew Goldstein and Hugo Morales.
Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, July 22, de la Renta was the only son of seven children. This internationally famed designer, who designed and licensed products ranging from men and women’s apparel to fragrances to furniture and other furnishings, gave back to his native land. He built two schools that incorporated orphanages and day care centers. He also served on the boards of the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, Thirteen/WNET, UNICEF, the American Society and the Spanish Institute.
On this particular evening in December 2007, Dr. Ramona Hernandez, Ph.D., the director of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute and a sociology professor, commented, “Oscar de la Renta is not only a man of fashion and class, he is a man of passion.” After gracefully accepting his award, de la Renta, a distinguished gentleman, explained, “I came to America with an education and speaking the language. After 41 years, I still have a very strong accent because I remained Dominican. My accent reminds everyone of the warmth of our country. It’s like luggage, and you always talk about where you are from. Well over 600,000 Dominicans now live in the U.S.”
He was the first Dominican to receive an honorary doctorate degree from CUNY. “I am grateful for this recognition. I have always been very proud to be a Dominican,” he continued humbly. He also congratulated all of the graduates. “Graduating from college improved your life and the life of your family. Good luck and thanks for this honor,” he concluded.
It was an unforgettable evening for an unforgettable man and designer. He leaves his wife, Annette de la Renta, whom he married in 1989, and a son.