Oscar de la Renta, born in the capital of the Dominican Republic in 1932, lost his battle with cancer last week, leaving the design industry to grieve and remember his life’s work. He was 82 years old.
“Everyone knows that Oscar was the most stylish, elegant man ever,” said interior designer and close friend of de la Renta’s, Bunny Williams. “But, what I will miss the most about him is his heart, his compassion, his humor, his passion for gardens, dogs and his great sense of fun.”
Oscar de la Renta (1932-2014)
De la Renta was one of the most renowned clothing designers in the world, dressing the world’s most glamorous women, from famous actresses to American royalty like Jacqueline Kennedy. But for much of his life, he also dressed homes—and dressed them well.
Oscar de la Renta Home launched in 2002, bringing the fashion dignitary’s touch to table settings, entertaining accessories, carpets, and more. In addition to his own home brand, he also designed pieces of furniture for Century and fabrics for Lee Jofa.
Furniture and fabrics by Oscar de la Renta
“It was an extraordinary pleasure for us,” said Stephen Elrod, Executive VP and Creative Director at Lee Jofa. “One is at a lost to describe how utterly cordial and engaging he was as we realized his beautiful collections of fabrics and wallpapers. Although known for his luxurious and classic fashion designs, as well as his gorgeous, traditionally inspired homes and gardens, he was always looking forward and striving to envision something new and unique.”
De la Renta spoke at last fall’s Design Leadership Summit, put on by the Design Leadership Network, and told the audience he felt like he was “just entering the prime of his career.”
Oscar de la Renta and Bunny Williams at the 2013 Design Leadership Network Summit
With five older sisters, he had a deep appreciation for women, but it wasn’t until he left home to study in Spain that he became interested in fashion design. He secured an apprenticeship with Spain's renowned couturier, Cristóbal Balenciaga, whom he considers his mentor. In 1965 he went to work for Jane Derby in New York, where he insisted his name be placed on the label with Derby’s (only larger) for the pieces he designed. When Derby died in August 1965, de la Renta took over the label.
Throughout the years, de la Renta has held the same mission: “When a woman sees my dress, I want her to know that I understand her and that I love her.”
Oscar de la Renta's Spring 2014 line
During that speech at the Design Leadership Summit, de la Renta explained how different interiors and fashion can be, and that while fashion designers have to present something that is a reflection of the consumer, interior designers must have the most intimate understanding of people’s lives.
“You can’t design a home to be ‘trendy,’ like you do in fashion,” said de le Renta. “A person needs to live there for a very long time.”
Oscar de la Renta
De la Renta gave many pieces of advice to the audience during the Summit that day, but he also touched the lives of many others he mentored over the years.
“Oscar, he was big time,” said interior designer and former Oscar de la Renta Home Creative Director Miles Redd. “He’d seen it all, done it all, and his graciousness inspired you to get up in the morning and give him your best. Why? Because he did that every day for you.”