Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Oscar de la Renta: Celebrating a global fashion icon

Oscar de la Renta / The Dominican-born
American designer celebrated the best in us.
"Beauty, optimism, confidence." Three words that define how Dominican-born American designer Oscar de la Renta celebrated the best in us through his remarkable and colorful fashion. De la Renta (1932-2014) dressed women for modern life, and he was one of the most beloved and influential fashion icons whose career spanned both the 20th and 21st centuries. 

De la Renta's knowledge of literature, art, music and social history influenced his fashion design, and "his work was admired for its contemporary sensibility, romantic artistry, and traditional workmanship." 

His fashion has been worn by distinguished women and celebrities, including First Ladies Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, and singer Rihanna.

Oscar de la Renta / He was deeply
influenced by the people, history and
customs of Spain.
Last week, I had the opportunity to see a world-premiere retrospective of de la Renta's designs with my wife that opened less than two weeks ago at the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. "This is the first major survey to celebrate the life and career of one of fashion's most influential designers, examining his craft and technique, the historical and cultural influences on his work, and the clients who wore his designs," according to Fine Arts magazine.

The colorful exhibition included more than 130 ensembles spanning de la Renta's remarkable career, beginning in Spain where he first gained his initial commissions to his formative years that were spent in some of the world's most famous and iconic European fashion houses, and finally to his role as a designer for many influential and celebrated personalities. 

Oscar de la Renta for Pierre Balmain
Evening ensemble; coat and pants,
Spring/summer, 2000.
"Today, people – clothes – are international. Frontiers are non-existent," de la Renta once said. He broke a barrier in becoming the first American designer to head a French couture house when he joined Pierre Balmain.

Andr√© Leon Talley, former American Vogue editor-at-large and the exhibition's curator, said of the iconic designer: "Oscar carried with him the warmth of paradise, surely drawn from the sheer happiness of his childhood, growing up in a tropical environment in a huge family, surrounded by love." 

Throughout the 1970s, Oscar de la Renta's
collections included his hallmark sophisticated
take on daywear.
Further, Talley said: "Throughout his life, there was always love and laughter and it infused everything he took to task, be it the designing a simple cashmere coat, a suit, or a gorgeous evening dress; preparing a lovely dinner party; or tending to his gardens. Oscar loved life, and the light from within him beamed out to his world."

It became clear to me as I walked through the exhibit rooms that de la Renta's designs were full of beauty and color, and filled with elegance. It is evident that he had a true desire to make all of his women look and feel beautiful.

The special exhibition celebrating the fashion of Oscar de la Renta continues through May 30 in the Herbst Exhibition Galleries at the de Young. 

If your travels bring you to the San Francisco Bay Area between now and the end of May, I highly recommend you treat yourself and see this enjoyable exhibition – and bring your camera along to take photographs as non-flash photography is allowed in this exhibition.

Learn more about the Oscar de la Renta exhibition:

Photos: Oscar de la Renta courtesy of Fine Arts magazine and FAMSF. Exhibition photographs by Michael Dickens, © 2016.

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