By Sarah Tinoco
On Oct. 20 the fashion industry lost one of its legendary icons when fashion designer Oscar de la Renta died at the age of 82.
De la Renta lived a life of elegance, dressing and designing for first ladies, celebrities and beyond for more than 50 years.
Model Karlie Kloss posted a tribute on Instagram last week after de la Renta’s last runway collection, “There is no one on earth who makes a woman feel more beautiful than Oscar de la Renta.”
De la Renta defined elegance for American fashion and the world with his aesthetic of feminine silhouettes, bright colors and Latin influence.
Born Oscar Aristides Ortiz de la Renta Fiallo in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 1932, de la Renta left home in 1950 to study painting at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, Spain.
In the late ‘50s, de la Renta landed a position as an illustrator under Spanish couturier Cristobal Balenciaga.
In 1956, de la Renta dressed Beatrice Lodge, the daughter of Francesca Lodge whose husband was the US ambassador to Spain at the time. Beatrice, posing in one of de la Renta’s gowns, landed on the cover of Life magazine in the fall of 1956, beginning a professional career for de la Renta.
Soon after, de la Renta moved to Paris to assist Spanish designer Antonio del Castillo, head of the fashion house in Lanvin, Paris.
In 1963, Diana Vreeland, editor-in-chief of Vogue, became a mentor. He took Vreeland’s advice and traveled to New York to make a name for himself. In 1965, de la Renta left New York to design for the clothing line Jane Derby.
In the late 1960s, de la Renta started his own ready-to-wear line based out of New York.
Throughout his career, de la Renta received many honors for his work. In 1973, he won the Coty Hall of Fame Award and was appointed the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a position he held until 1976.
In 1977, de la Renta debuted his first fragrance, Oscar, which became an iconic scent for women everywhere. In 1989, he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the CFDA.
In 1993, de la Renta became the head designer of Balmain Couture in Paris. Until 2002, de la Renta jetted between New York and Paris, designing for both his own line and Balmain, earning the name “Concorde Couturier.”
De la Renta’s name became more well known in 2004 as it was mentioned in the “Sex and the City” television series staring Sarah Jessica Parker, who soon became a good friend to de la Renta.
In 2005, former First Lady Laura Bush was added to the list of First Ladies de la Renta designed for when he designed her inaugural gown. Previously, de la Renta had dressed Nancy Reagan and Hilary Clinton, designing Clinton’s second inaugural gown in 1997.
In 2006, de la Renta started his bridal collection. He went on to design custom wedding gowns for celebrities and public figures including Kate Bosworth, Chelsea Clinton and most recently Amal Alamuddin, George Clooney’s new bride.
As de la Renta entered his later years, he focused on ready-to-wear and bridal collections and designing for celebrities and events, including the Grammys, Oscar’s and the Met Gala for the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute exhibition.
For his fall/winter 2013 collection, de la Renta collaborated with the controversial designer John Galliano, stemming rumors that Galliano would become de la Renta’s successor. The rumors were proven false as Galliano was only invited as a guest designer for one season.
De la Renta presented his spring/summer 2015 runway show in September 2014, his final ready-to-wear collection.
On October 8 at the Fashion Education Workshop event held at the White House, First Lady Michele Obama wore an Oscar de la Renta gown for the first time.
In mid-October, after rumors again surfaced about a possible successor, British designer Peter Copping was announced as the new creative director of Oscar de la Renta, beginning in November 2014.
The day after Copping’s appointment, de la Renta presented his final collection, the fall/winter 2015 bridal collection, at his New York workshop.
After an eight-year battle with cancer, de la Renta passed away in his Kent, Conn. home alongside his wife Annette and family.
The fashion industry, celebrities and public figures reacted with heartbreak on social media remembering the late designer. Editors and longtime friends, including Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes, former Vogue International editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour remembered their dear friend in written tributes.
Wintour remembered de la Renta as “the most democratic man…happy dining with the rich and famous, for sure, but equally happy playing dominoes with his devoted staff.”
Vanessa Friedman, fashion director of the New York Times tweeted out a touching remembrance, “A toast to the life of Oscar de la Renta; we owe him our elegance.” This simple praise summed up the appreciation of the life and work of Oscar de la Renta.