Nearly 50 years after he launched his eponymous label, Oscar de la Renta remained the last word in fashion. When Hollywood star George Clooney married human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, she wore an ivory tulle gown with Chantilly lace applique, its bodice hand-embroidered with beading and crystals. That was just one of the remarkable ensembles that the Dominican Republic-born designer created during his long and legendary career. Famous for creating the most coveted red carpet gowns and dressing many of America’s First Ladies over the course of half a century, de la Renta had become a fashion powerhouse with fragrance lines, home linen and furniture selling under his label. Last week, his company announced the passing of the baton with the appointment of Peter Copping as creative director. On Monday, de la Renta breathed his last at the age of 82, merely six weeks after his label’s Spring-Summer 2015 showcase, where he valiantly took the curtain call
supported by two models.
Closer home, designer Raghavendra Rathore remembers the years, in the early 90s, when he worked under the debonair designer, post graduating from Parsons The New School of Design, New York. Here he pens his tribute:
Generous with an immaculate eye, Oscar de la Renta understood the very essence of fashion; he constantly maintained that it was a way of life rather than about seasons and collections. His true talent lay in understanding his clientele, the “lunching lady”. I worked at his atelier for well over a year and it was an experience that changed my life. Being a young assistant to de la Renta, I only realised later the impact of the man, when people stopped to look, each time I presented my business card, which read: “Assistant to Mr De La Renta”.
I remember calling his office on the 7th Avenue in New York from a payphone across the street. The operator put me on hold and just as the call time was about to get over I heard a voice — the last thing I expected was to be connected directly to him. In a state of utter disbelief I said that I was calling from a payphone across the street, which would disconnect any second, and would be obliged if I may take some time from him to present my portfolio. There must have been no fault in the stars, as he asked me to come up to his office and show him my work and 20 minutes later, I had myself a job with three other designers John, Francisco and Rosey, and a whole army of pros in the PR and marketing department.
His love for India was well-known and his first wife Francoise was devoted in making India the buzzword in the Manhattan mind. On one occasion, I requested permission for a lunch meeting with my late grand aunt — the Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. He asked me to sit down in his office and call her on the phone, which I did. After an in-depth
15-minute conversation with her and knowing the names of all the others she would be lunching with, as only he could instruct, with such panache, I was asked to pack five new fur coat samples each, with personalised hand-written notes, and present them as generous offerings from the house of de la Renta.
An experience of this kind can only be felt, to describe it would only fall short of some element. It was a privilege to have worked under such a man. Today, I look back at the marvel of being an assistant to the quintessential maestro of materials, a tastemaker who would go down in the history books of fashion as an icon.