The Man Behind the Dress

Women’s fashion designer and activist Oscar de la Renta died last month but leaves a legacy of women’s empowerment and individualistic fashions.

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By Justine Herving

A fashion icon once said, “We live in an era of globalization and the era of the woman. Never in the history of the world have women been more in control of their destiny.” Oct. 20, 2014 was a dreadful day to bear in the fashion world. Oscar de la Renta, a fashion designer, well-known for creating looks for some of the most influential women, (Hilary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Jacqueline Kennedy to name a few) has died at the age of 82. de la Renta was more than just a designer, he helped show women’s strength and individuality through their clothes. There are many designers in this world, but de la Renta was one the few who celebrated clothes for women and the world they worked in.

He built his career from the ground up. At the age of 19 he studied painting in Spain and on the side dabbled in drawing clothes for newspapers and fashion houses for extra cash. De la Renta didn’t imagine that soon this would only be a small part of his career. Soon his sketches were discovered by the wife of John Davis Lodge, the U.S. Ambassador to Spain. She had wanted him to sketch and design a dress for their daughter. And with that came his design on the cover of Life magazine.

Then a spark flickered in de le Renta’s head and he became fascinated with the world of fashion and design. From then on, he climbed up through the market, captivating numerous artists like; Cristóbal Balenciaga, Antonio del Castillo, Diana Vreeland, the editor-in-chief of Vogue and many more. De la Renta did more than create beautiful gowns, and captivating clothes. He created a world for women to showcase their power and beauty. Amy Adams, Sarah Jessica Parker and Penélope Cruz were among the many actresses who wore his dresses. He was known to create gowns for the red carpet as well as the “women who lunch.”

His biggest fans were the first ladies he dressed, including Hilary Clinton for the 1997 inauguration and Laura Bush in 2005. Sarah Hall proclaims that “A man that is so involved with the fashion of women must’ve been a great man and anyone who dressed the first ladies he must’ve had some luck in his corner.”

He was involved in more than just fashion. He participated in other events as well. He was involved in the arts; he was on the on the boards for The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and Channel Thirteen/WNET. He dedicated his time in several cultural institutions such as New Yorkers for Children, The Americas Society, and The Spanish Institute. Oscar saw more potential for his line to develop so he started a line called “O Oscar,” which catered to those who couldn’t afford the high priced gowns and suits. Oscar continued to add to his name adding a fragrance, accessory line and a furniture line as well. Because of all of his work dedicated to the fashion world he won two Coty Awards and in 1973 was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame. He also received several more awards and honors for his work, making him a fashion icon like Tommy Hilfiger, Vera Wang, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Valentino and many more.

De la renta was not just a man that created fashion for women, he paved a way in the fashion world opening up opportunity for the working women. A man who had a vision for the fashion industry thrived and showed that it doesn’t take much to create and live a dream. De la Renta will be missed by his wife, and child as well as those who enjoyed his gorgeous creations. De la Renta has said, “I’m a very restless person. I’m always doing something. The creative process never stops.” He will be gravely missed by friends and family, but his work will continue to live and inspire.