There are all of these different portals through which brave, naive eyes enter into the world fashion. Some come by accident, others by default. It’s an industry that can feel unfamiliar or overwhelming, but there are certain designers whose creations make you feel like you made the right decision; that you belong. Oscar de la Renta, who passed away last night at 82, made people feel like they belonged.
His house has represented high society, uptown dressing, black tie formality and marvelous American women, but these things were never alienating because Mr. de la Renta was warm. He was a gentleman, a true talent, a legend, and an icon.
He changed the face of American fashion, proving couture capability in a market largely run by sportswear. And he never compromised his vision. He continued to marvel in hand-sewn appliqués and embroidery deployed from the depths of who knows where until the last moment.
And his spirit: he was full of life, like a little kid in it for the fun. And that’s what his clothes did, right? They had fun. They ensured the wearer had fun. Mr. de la Renta made beautiful, gigantic gowns that were unapologetically noisy. He never shied away from volume. The embroidery was thick, shoes bold. His pantsuits seemed to beg for the addition of a turban, maybe a cocktail ring or costume earrings. His women played dress up each time they wore his clothes.
Dress up. That’s another portal through which many of us entered his world. Because each season, when the house lights turned down and the runway turned on, and the first model marched out in a confident, chin-up strut, Oscar de la Renta — the man and his clothes — reminded every woman, from every portal, “You belong.”
His departure is tragic. Fashion will never be the same. His absence will feel forever present in the industry that he helped define, and yet he leaves behind a legacy of successors, of young designers, of women and men who grew up admiring him. In no way will he be forgotten; his gowns will carry on.
Edited by Leandra Medine