Oscar de la Renta was born in the Dominican Republic in 1932. However, the country of Spain was his earliest style muse. At the age of 18, he moved to Madrid to attend the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. As a student, de la Renta immersed himself in the culture of
Spain and, to make extra money, took up fashion sketching.
It was also in Madrid where he first became a fashion illustrator for the couture house of Cristobal Balenziaga in 1957.
Arriving in Manhattan in 1963, he worked for Elizabeth Arden and Jane Derby before going it alone, quickly became part of the fabric of the city’s fashion and social scenes.
De la Renta began his own signature ready-to-wear label in 1965. His designs were ladylike without being stiff, and he could whip up an airy summer dress with the same facility as he could a red carpet gown.
The label ” Oscar de la Renta” was an immediate hit thanks to De la Renta’s use of colour, his vibrant prints and romantic rendering of Spanish and Caribbean silhouettes. He said: “I fell madly for Spain, its people, its landscape and life in Madrid. The sights, sounds and drama of Spanish culture — bullfights, flamenco and the most festive celebrations such as the traditional ferias of Seville and fallas of Valencia — were burned forever in my imagination, defining my own aesthetic.”
Highly respected by his contemporaries, de la Renta served as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America from 1973 to 1976, and from 1986 to 1988. In 1990 the CFDA gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award. He also won the CFDA Womanswear Designer of the Year Award in 2000.
Oscar de la Renta became the creative director of Balmain Haute Couture in 1992. Between 1993 and 2002 he designed the haute couture collections, becoming the first Dominican to design for a French couture house.
By the late ’90s and early 2000s, his work became the preferred wear of American first ladies. He dressed first lady Nancy Reagan in the 1980s, and then provided the gowns for inaugural events for both Hillary Clinton in 1997 and Laura Bush in 2005.
De la Renta had been diagnosed with cancer during the first decade of the 2000s. He died on October 20, 2014, at the age of 82. His brand continues to function, and his creations are displayed in the best museums in the world.