A sold out crowd gathered last night to hear Oscar de la Renta talk at the French Institute Alliance Francaise. The third installment in a three-part series hosted by Pamela Golbin, Chief Curator of the Musee de la Mode et du Textile at the Louvre, focused on de la Renta’s astonishing 45 year career, as well as the definition of modern elegance.
“Fashion started by accident for me,” he said; in fact, it was architecture that first caught his eye. “My father was an insurance man, and wanted me to sell insurance. I convinced him that the insurance business was not for me, and that I would be an architect.” Fortunately, that notion didn’t stick, either. It was de la Renta’s first position at Cristobal Balenciaga‘s couture house in Spain where he learned the fundamentals of fashion.
Always inspired to do more, “creativity comes from having dreams and keeping your eyes open,” he said. After his time at Balenciaga, the designer traveled to Paris where he began working at the house of Lanvin under Antonio Castillo. In 1962 he re-appraised Paris, with its couturiers and older consumer, and decided that ready-to-wear was the future. So he headed to New York, where he designed custom clothing for makeup mogul Elizabeth Arden (after some guidance from Diana Vreeland) and later his own signature label.
With such a remarkable life to look back on, it’s de la Renta’s continued passion, enthusiasm and obvious love for fashion that makes him such a wonderful designer and inspiring speaker. He sited all women as his inspiration, saying, “I think that my role as a designer is to do the best I can for the woman. I design for all women; every single woman I see.” His remarkable joie de vivre and admiration of his craft after a 45 year career is still so evident. “You have to love life, and be in love with life and have a passion for it,” he said. “The day that I stop feeling passionate about designing, and feel no love for it and stop learning new things, that is the day that I will stop.” When asked to define modern elegance today, he said, “I think you have to be elegant naked to be elegant dressed. It’s about feeling good about yourself. Taking care of yourself.”
And his last piece of advice? “When in doubt, take it off”.
**Photos by Junenoire Mitchell.