Oscar De la Renta

Amber Jane Butchart

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA046

Known for opulent ornamentation and feminine silhouettes, Oscar de la Renta’s designs epitomize evening glamour and red-carpet-friendly formal gowns as well as cocktail dresses. Born in 1932 in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) to a society family, de la Renta first studied art at the University of Santo Domingo and then the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, Spain. The intention was to become an abstract painter, but his career in design took off when he created a gown for the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Spain, which was subsequently featured on the cover of Life magazine. De la Renta joined the Balenciaga couture house in Madrid, and in 1961 moved to Paris to assist Antonio del Castillo at Lanvin-Castillo.

In 1963, at the advice of mentor Diana Vreeland (who the same year became editor in chief of American Vogue), de la Renta moved to New York to design for Elizabeth Arden’s couture and ready-to-wear collections. In 1965 he moved to Jane Derby and established his own label the same year. His designs became internationally known when Jacqueline Kennedy wore them and he has continued to dress First Ladies of the United States with the exception of Michelle Obama.

During the 1960s, de la Renta’s reputation grew as a designer of extravagant, yet tasteful clothes, typified in his 1967 “Gypsy” collection. In 1967 he formed a fashion power couple by marrying Françoise de Langlade, an editor at French Vogue, who died in 1983. He married his second wife, Annette Engelhard, in 1989.

De la Renta established himself as part of the American fashion elite; he twice served as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), from 1973 to 1976 and from 1987 to 1989. In 1993 he made history by becoming the first American to head a design team for a Paris couture house, when he was appointed creative director at Balmain. His final Balmain collection was shown in 2002. In 1999 he formed the Council of Latin American Fashion Designers with Carolina Herrera (from Venezuela) among others.

De la Renta oversaw many offshoot and accessories collections; in 2002 Oscar de la Renta Home was launched, and in 2006 he debuted his bridal line. There are also children’s wear and shoe lines. In early 2013 designer John Galliano held a temporary residency at Oscar de la Renta’s New York design studio, working on the house’s fall/winter 2013 line. De la Renta is the recipient of numerous awards, including the CFDA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989, and the French government awarded him a Légion d’honneur as a commander. He was dedicated to charity work and his own charity, Casa del Niño, cares for children in the Dominican Republic. Oscar de la Renta died in October 2014.

Oscar de la Renta, Spring/Summer 1993 Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Buttolph Angela. The Fashion Book . London and New York : Phaidon, 2001.

Find in Library O’Hara Georgina. The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Fashion & Fashion Designers . London : Thames and Hudson, 1998.

Find in Library Steele V. , ed. The Berg Companion to Fashion . Oxford : Berg, 2010.