Monday, 10 June 2013 15:59

A Date with Mr. de la Renta

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A Date with Mr. de la Renta Joyce Culver for 92Y

Gorgeous, classy and carefully tailored pieces have often been associated with the Oscar de la Renta name.

Oscar De La Renta has clothed the bodies of the most amazing women in the world. Jacqueline Kennedy and Hillary Clinton are only two women on a long list of exclusive clientele.

On Thursday June 6th I was given the opportunity to be a guest at a candid interview of this prestigious designer. On this special evening American fashion royalty Fern Mallis interviewed Mr. de la Renta as part of 92Y talks. The auditorium of fashionably mixed company was alive with excitement and chatter about the evening's events. Those that are familiar with Fern Mallis will know that she is the creator of New York Fashion Week and more recently the President of leading international fashion and design consultancy, Fern Mallis LLC. I was very excited about this event as it was going to be my first assignment following moving back to New York City. What better way to ease back into the swing of things than to be amidst some of the city's key influential players in the tri state area? Dressed in my green chiffon dress and leopard print sling backs I sat anxiously awaiting a glimpse of a man that made my fingers dance as I turned pages of editorial magazines since I was thirteen.

Mr. de la Renta walked on stage with a charming disposition that was undeniable. As I sat in the second row I already knew that this was going to be an unforgettable experience. Dressed in a well tailored suit and a physique that appeared to be nowhere near his 80 years of age, the designer spoke with a heavy Spanish accent while he greeted Fern and then the audience.

Mr. de la Renta was asked about his childhood at the start and he began to share intimate stories about his youth in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic. Mr. de la Renta told stories of being the only boy amongst his sisters and the dynamics of his family. He spoke candidly about his strong family values and his business sense even as a child. The designer reminisced about having a garden for vegetables where he grew spinach and corn which he then sold to his mother when they were ready to be picked. He spoke about making perfume to sell to his sisters at the age of seven. It seemed that the designer always had a fascination with fragrance and the ideas behind how flowers created perfume. Mr. de la Renta shared that his first fragrance in 1977 had a signature dew drop on the bottle which stemmed from his beliefs and memories as a child.

The designer spoke of his dreams to travel for opportunities. He spoke of leaving Santa Domingo for the first time to study art in Spain. He shared that Paris was his first choice as someone interested in fashion however at that time it seemed unrealistic and out of reach. It seemed that Oscar's father was against his son's move to Spain however Mr. de la Renta notes that his mother was able to encourage his father to let him go. Oscar's mother had multiple sclerosis and died that same year when Oscar was only 18 years of age. The designer felt that perhaps his mother knew her own fate and may have sent him away to spare him.

Although back home tragedy had struck Mr. de la Renta remained strong and persevered through his grief. The designer spoke on the many opportunities in terms of interviews at fashion houses, meeting and working with iconic people such as Cristobal Balenciaga and Antonio Castillo. He spoke of his move to Madrid where many of these opportunities took place. He shared that he often felt lonely however he still had a great curiosity and freedom for being on his own. The designer continued at art school focusing on illustrations. He recalls that there was pressure from his father for him to return to the Dominican Republic after Oscar's mother passed away. The designer highlights that his sisters were financially supporting him in secret as he struggled however he remained in Spain.

Mr. de la Renta found the experiences working in fashion houses rewarding and felt that watching fabric become collections and watching masters create collections were both once in a lifetime experiences. As the designer learned the business of fashion he was soon able to become more confident in furthering his goals. His charming and business savvy approach later led to him finally visiting Paris in 1959, a trip that seemed unrealistic years earlier.

After building a name over three years while working at Lanvin, Mr. de la Renta set off for New York City. Mr. de la Renta expressed that New York City is the capital of fashion today. The designer states it is known that France comes to America looking for talent. He recalls a fashion showdown between American and French designers in 1973 at Chateau de Versailles that changed the global perception of the use of black models in the fashion industry. Mr. de la Renta recalls going to France for the show with Halston, Burrows, Anne Klein and Bill Blass. The designer remembers this trip being a significant event in fashion history as well as how barriers in terms of race and acceptance were broken down during this time.

Mr. de la Renta went on to establish his company and dress the most prestigious of individuals in music, art and politics. The designer was asked about his recent work with John Galliano. Mr. de la Renta felt that John Galliano deserved a second chance regardless of what he did. He expressed that he felt Galliano was talented and having him come work with him on a recent collection was a good decision for the brand. In terms of Mr. de la Renta's own work ethic he shared that in his studio he likes to be surrounded by those that are very talented. He stated that he likes to be challenged and contradicted on a daily basis. He feels that every day is a learning process.

Amongst Mr. de la Renta's noted accomplishments are the CFDA's Designer of the Year Award in 2000 and in 2007.Mr. de la Renta was also honored with a CDFA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. It has been said that Mr. de la Renta has dressed more first ladies than any other designer. When asked about dressing women for today Mr. de la Renta replied "never ever has there been a woman in time that is more controlled of their destiny than woman today."

The designer offered the following advice for young designers that are up and coming in fashion world. He insisted that new designers work hard and believe in themselves and their work. The interview came to a close with Mr. de la Renta thanking his family and his wife (who was in the audience) for the ongoing support.

Two pillars of the fashion world carried out a frank, candid and what seemed to be very honest discussion about a chain of events that made Oscar de la Renta the man he is today. In my opinion the interview was carried out beautifully and without flaw.

For more about Oscar de la Renta please visit

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