The life and legacy of oscar de la Renta

Oscar de la Renta left his native Dominican Republic at the age of eighteen, to study painting at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. While living in Spain, he became interested in the world of design and began sketching for leading Spanish fashion houses, which soon led to an apprenticeship with Spain’s most renowned couturier, Cristóbal Balenciaga. Later, he left Spain to join Antonio Castillo as couture assistant at the house of Lanvin in Paris. In 1963, he came to New York to design the couture collection for Elizabeth Arden. In 1965, Oscar de la Renta began his signature ready-to-wear label. Today the company also produces a bridal collection, a line of fragrances, a home collection and a complete range of accessories, including handbags, shoes and jewelry. In 2008, Oscar de la Renta opened its first international stores in Athens and Madrid, and has continued its expansion with the opening of Dubai in 2009.

Oscar de la Renta’s talents received continual international recognition. In addition to the honor of receiving the 2009 Superstar award from The Fashion Group International, Oscar de la Renta was the co-recipient of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) Womenswear Designer of the Year in 2007. In 2006, Oscar de la Renta received the Lifetime Achievement Award at Parsons’ 58th Annual Benefit and Fashion Show in 2006. He received the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year Award in 2000. In February 1990, he was honored with the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award. From 1973 to 1976, and from 1986 to 1988, he served as President of the CFDA. He is also a two-time winner of the Coty American Fashion Critic’s Award and was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame in 1973. From 1993 until 2002, Oscar de la Renta designed the haute couture collection for the house of Pierre Balmain, becoming the first American ever to design for a French couture house. Oscar de la Renta was awarded the French Legion d’Honneur as a Commandeur.

Oscar de la Renta was a tireless patron of the arts. He served as a board member of The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and Channel Thirteen/WNET. He also served on the boards of important institutions such as New Yorkers for Children, the Americas Society, and was chairman of the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute. Oscar de la Renta also helped build a much needed school and day-care center in the Dominican Republic for 1,200 children.


Oscar de la Renta is born on July 22nd in the Dominican Republic’s vibrant capital city, Santo Domingo.His childhood is spent in this tropical island, filled with color, flowers, and sunshine, has and continues to inspire his bright palette and beautiful designs.

“My great strength is knowing who I am and where I come from – my island.”


At the age of 18, Oscar heads to Spain to study painting at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. While living there, he becomes captivated by Spanish culture,  from  the  music  and  art,  to  the  bullfights  and  flamenco,  to  of  course…   the fashion.

Oscar’s interest in the world of design grows and he begins sketching for Spain’s leading fashion houses. He soon lands a coveted apprenticeship with Spain’s most renowned couturier, Cristóbal Balenciaga. Working there, Oscar becomes immersed in his craft – observing the sample rooms, studying the clothes, learning the techniques.


With the belief that you should start at the top then scale your way down, Oscar takes the next step in his career and travels to Paris. There he joins Antonio Castillo at the prominent house of Lanvin as a couture assistant. He continues with his sketching, while further absorbing the extravagant world of haute-couture – the lavish fabrics, over the top feathers, exquisite jewels, and ornate trims. The influences of these extraordinary years spent in Paris are still seen in Oscar’s beautifully embellished designs.

“Working for incredible talents like Balenciaga and Antonio Castillo, I learned about the immense skill and creativity involved in couture work. Today, I apply some of that same detailing and artistry in my own designs.”


In the midst of the extravagant Paris scene, Oscar begins to realize that the future of fashion lay not in haute couture, but in ready-to-wear – so he sets off for America. Once in New York,at the advice of Diana Vreeland, then Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, he returns to couture designing Elizabeth Arden’s custom-made clothing line. Because Arden is predominantly known for beauty, not fashion, she promotes Oscar’s name on the label and he is able to gain further  public  recognition…  paving  the  way  for  what  will  be  his own groundbreaking venture just two years down the road.

THE HOUSE – 1965

After years of working with some of the greatest couturiers in the world, Oscar finally establishes a house in his own right. In 1965, the Oscar de la Renta signature ready-to-wear label is created.

Combining his Latin American passion for vibrant colours, his European- trained eye for luxurious fabrics and embellishments, and his unique understanding of all things feminine, the label is instantly a favorite among the press and retailers.

“I have always felt my role as a designer is to do the very best I can for a woman to (make her) look her best. Fashion is only fashion once a woman puts it on.”

COTY AWARDS – 1967-1968, 1973

In 1967 and again in 1968, Oscar receives the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award, the then highest possible fashion accolade. Considered the “Oscars” of the fashion world, the prestigious Coty Awards help further put Oscar’s name on the map. Five years later in 1973, Oscar’s talents and successes earn him a distinguished place in the Coty Hall of Fame.

CFDA PRESIDENT – 1973-1976

From 1973 to 1976, Oscar proudly serves as President of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), an association of the top American fashion and accessory designers. In office, Oscar creates the CFDA Awards, placing the fashion community in control of their own industry awards, rather than Coty sponsoring them. As many designers at the time are beginning to create fragrances of their own, this eliminates any potential conflicts of interest with Coty, a beauty company, hosting the awards.


“When I was really small I had this idea that if I could get up early enough, I could bottle the dewdrops on all the flowers and create a perfume.”

Oscar de la Renta launches his first scent, OSCAR, in 1977. He had always dreamed of creating a perfume that in one drop captured all the joyous sophistication of his fashions. With its iconic bottle and uniquely feminine scent, OSCAR continues to be a bestseller in over 70 countries.

Today, the Oscar de la Renta fragrance collection includes an alluring assortment of scents for both men and women.


“There’s something about Latin America that’s very different from other areas of the world. There’s a very strong sense of brotherhood. We feel a closeness, that we are one. My country has given me a very strong sense of who I am.”

As the Dominican Republic’s best known native son, perhaps one of Oscar’s greatest accomplishments is building La Casa del Niño, an orphanage and school for the children of La Romana. La Casa del Niño cares for 1,200 children on a daily basis, providing schooling up to eighth grade and day-care for newborns (on up) so their mothers can work.

CFDA AWARDS – 1990, 2000, 2003
”All awards are deeply appreciated, but to be recognized by one’s peers is truly an honor.”

Oscar receives the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. Never one to rest on his laurels, he continues working even harder to design and perfect clothes that meet the modern woman’s needs. Thus in 2000, he is recognized again by the CFDA as Womenswear Designer of the Year and in 2007, he is honored once more as the co-recipient of this Award. These acknowledgments from the industry throughout his career are especially meaningful to Oscar, who holds that the most important thing in fashion is staying power.


In 1993, Oscar becomes the head couturier at Pierre Balmain in Paris – making him the first American to design for a French couture house. In this role, Oscar is determined to revitalize the house which had not sold a single couture dress in two years. Believing the prosperity of custom-made lies in eveningwear, Oscar focuses on this area to rejuvenate the business. Today Balmain is among the leading houses for dress sales in Paris.

Oscar leaves Balmain in 2002, but continues to apply the techniques he used there to his New York collections.

“Everything I did in Paris was applicable to my ready-to-wear collection, just not practical. At Balmain, we had 15 ladies and two sewing machines, because almost everything was hand sewn. In my New York sample room, I have 15 ladies and 15 sewing machines, so we can make those dreamy fantasies a reality for many more women.”

”A woman makes an outfit her own with accessories.”

To complement the signature Oscar de la Renta ready-to-wear designs, Oscar de la Renta Accessories is introduced in the designer’s Fall 2001 runway show. Today, the luxurious collection includes bags, belts, shoes, and jewelry. Made with the most exotic materials, from ostrich to alligator, this modern and lavish collection represents the ultimate in high-end accessories.

HOME – 2002

Oscar de la Renta Home is launched in 2002 with a furniture and home fragrance collection. Inspired by de la Renta’s personal residences in New York City, the Dominican Republic, and Connecticut, the line has three distinctive themes – city, island, and country. Since then, tabletops, decorative fabrics, wallpapers, bedding, rugs and decorative accents have been added to this diverse collection.

“My entire concept of lifestyle is built on the foundation of my homes. There is no more important expression of this concept than that of my own personal living space.”


The Oscar de la Renta retail division is launched in 2004 with the opening of the designer’s first freestanding store on Madison Avenue in New York. Dominican coral stone and high-gloss white anigré wood are used throughout the boutique to create a simple yet elegant backdrop for de la Renta’s signature women’s ready- to-wear and accessories collections.

The Oscar de la Renta retail network in the United States has since expanded to include freestanding boutiques in Bal Harbour, Costa Mesa, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Manhasset.

BRIDAL – 2006

The Oscar de la Renta Bridal collection launches in 2006, featuring extraordinary embroideries and beautiful fabrics, from silk duchess to French Alençon lace. This utterly feminine and romantic collection also includes elegant accessories, such as veils, shoes, and bags.

“My  designs  are  known  for  their  beautiful  ornamentation,  details,   fabrics, and embroideries – which are never more important than on a wedding dress” Oscar de la Renta


The first daughter Jenna Bush wears an Oscar de la Renta dress at her wedding. Oscar de la Renta opens international retail stores in Athens and Madrid


The first childrenswear collection was launched

“ Kids are so full of life. The spontaneity, charm and innocence of children, it is just missing in the world today” Oscar de la Renta


Hilary Clinton presents Oscar de la Renta with the CEDA Founders Awards” given in the honor of Elanor Lambert


On October 20 2014 Oscar de Renta passes away at his home in Connecticut surrounded by family, friends and his dogs.


Today Oscar de la Renta is one of the leading design houses in the world. The company has seen an influx of great young talent as it continues to grow and expand as a global brand. De la Renta brought in many of his own family members to help build continuity and a foundation for the label’s future success. His son-in-law Alex Bolen operates now as Chief Executive Officer, step- daughter Eliza Bolen serves as Vice President of Licensing, and his son Moises de la Renta works in the Design Studio. Shortly before his death Oscar named Peter Copping as Creative Director of the company.