Remembering Oscar de la Renta and His Legacy

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This week, fashion followers mourn the passing of legendary designer and philanthropist Oscar de la Renta. As we celebrate his prolific career, many of his high-profile friends and colleagues offer celebratory accounts luminous life. These anecdotal tales of Mr. de la Renta’s spirit soften his divine image to us as fans, and we are better able to grieve his death as a person, a father, a husband; one of us, rather than the untouchable icon that he will remain throughout the passage of time.

Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, de la Renta moved to Madrid at the age of 18 to pursue painting. Exhilarated by the artistic center that had fostered the fruition of work by Dali, Picasso and so many others before him, the young artist worked as a freelance fashion illustrator for extra money. His work in fashion sketching led to an apprenticeship for the house of Balenciaga, and soon, a love of fashion design eclipsed his dream of being a painter. And thus, the career that would span over the next five decades was launched to render Oscar de la Renta among fashion’s most masterful courtiers.

Renowned for his commitment to flattering the female form, he is famed for dressing first ladies and female celebrities alike, embodying the elegance that characterized his brand with every dress. Even Michelle Obama, after years of slighting his designs from her wardrobe, finally wore one of his dresses just two weeks before de la Renta’s death, to complete the list of first ladies he dressed since Jacqueline Kennedy.

His longtime industry friends have expressed their grief through heartfelt tributes to the late designer the past few days. Anna Wintour recounts her last visit with him in Kent, Connecticut, where he laughed and offered her daughter advice on her love life. Andre Leon Talley discusses the timelessness of his aesthetic conscious, upholding the standards of French haute couture. Like Sarah Jessica Parker, who tells of his beautiful and booming singing voice in the atelier, Andre also remembers the legendary designer’s love of music, calling him the best dancer.

It seems there is something romantic, effervescent and even musical about the essence of Oscar de la Renta’s legacy. Beyond his literal love of music, there appears to be a more metaphorical melody that bonds the designer’s personality with his beautifully crafted pieces, secured in history by many moments in time over the last fifty years.  In a 2013 interview with Elle Magazine, de la Renta said, “Fashion is about the present and the immediate future. I think in terms of now.” And while the feat of fashion does indeed exist within the culturally relevant moments that can be defined by a dress, Mr. de la Renta’s legacy surpasses this idea altogether. His contributions to cultivating beautiful clothes will endure the passage of time far beyond the immediate future.

Because although the future of fashion may be immediate, Oscar de Renta proves that the archetype of beauty resists time.

Grace Dipaolo | News Cult