His work became the preferred wear for such first ladies as Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, and he designed the dress worn by Amal Alamuddin at her wedding in September to George Clooney. Music stars Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Lee Ann Womack wore his dresses, while movie stars Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz and Kristen Stewart were among the designer’s great fans.
De la Renta was born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican mother and a Puerto Rican father. At 18, he moved to Spain to study painting but then switched over to fashion, landing an apprenticeship with Spain’s most renowned couturier, Cristobal Balenciaga.
“Soon I found that I was more interested in fashion design than I was in continuing as an illustrator,” he once told the Toronto Star. “I think that any experience you have; anything you pay attention to is part of what I call the ‘baggage’ you carry with you all your life. My early involvement with painting, even the fact that I come from a tropical country, are part of who and what I am today.”
He then moved on to Lanvin-Castillo in Paris, where he worked as an assistant to Antonio del Castillo, and then to Elizabeth Arden in New York. He launched his own ready-to-wear label in 1965.
The young de la Renta, as a designer in his own right, first came to public prominence after designing a dress for Jackie Kennedy.
By 1997, de la Renta’s fashion business reportedly was worth $500 million. Later, he expanded into home furnishings, fragrances and other lifestyle products.
Reacting to the designer’s death, Hollywood philanthropist Barbara Davis told The Hollywood Reporter: “I feel terrible; everything I wear is from him. He was the sweetest man. He had a flair about him that was more wonderful than any designer I’ve ever know. My daughters wore Oscar; my grandchildren have children’s Oscar, even my mother-in-law wore Oscar. It’s like losing a member of the family.”
De la Renta married Francoise de Langlade, an editor-in-chief of French Vogue, in 1967. She died of bone cancer in 1983. He married socialite Annette Engelhard Reed in 1990.
Last week, Peter Copping, formerly of the French label Nina Ricci, was appointed as creative director of the Oscar de la Renta company.
“Our industry has not always done the best job when it comes to changes in design leadership,” de la Renta said in a statement announcing the Copping hire. “My hope is that, in leading this selection and actively participating in the transition, I can ensure the right design future for our company and brand.”
Celebrities and fashion observers took to social media to share their thoughts and memories of the great designer.
My all-time favorite designer has passed away. Oscar, it was an honor to wear your creations and to… http://t.co/AOfPZbHg1i
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) October 21, 2014
RIP Oscar de la Renta. Beyoncé stunned in one of the legendary designer’s dresses for VOGUE Magazine 2013 photoshoot. pic.twitter.com/N33EYqsjyV
— BEYONCÉ LEGION (@Bey_Legion) October 21, 2014
What a sad day for the fashion industry. An icon is gone. RIP Oscar de la Renta ?
— Nicky Hilton (@NickyHilton) October 21, 2014
We’ve lost a legend. RIP Oscar de la Renta
— Project Runway (@ProjectRunway) October 21, 2014
At a loss for words…. #RIP Oscar de la Renta. You will be greatly missed.
— Alyssa Campanella (@AlyssCampanella) October 21, 2014
— Lee Ann Womack (@leeannwomack) October 21, 2014
Lady Gaga in a black Tulle and Velvet Embroidered Coat from Oscar’s Fall 2009 collection. RIP Oscar de la Renta pic.twitter.com/lz706ba277
— Maxy | Lady Gaga (@gagablunt) October 21, 2014