De la Renta was born in the Dominican Republic in 1932 and left his native homeland at 18 to study art in Spain. The wife of the US Ambassador at the time asked him to make a dress for her daughter, Beatrice, who ended up on the cover of Life magazine in 1956, wearing de la Renta’s creation. His fashion life had begun, and after working with Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga, he would go on to work for Lanvin and Elizabeth Arden. In 1965, he launched his brand. While his forte was evening wear, De la Renta conquered other areas of fashion and design: in 1977, he released his first fragrance, in 2001, an accessories line and in 2002, he dove into the world of housewares.
His talent for producing beautiful, timeless clothing made him the recipient of multiple awards including the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990 and the Fashion Institute of Technology Council Award for Artistry in 2012.
De La Renta will be remembered for more than impeccable design. Many of us remember the art lover’s generous spirit and philanthropy. “You know, we’ve lost a brilliant artist and an elegant and lovely, kind human being and his dresses and his work will live on forever, I think,” said actress Tina Fey in a statement to Reuters.
De la Renta served as a board member for the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall, and devoted time to charities, including New Yorkers for Children, an organization that works to improve the prospects of youths in New York’s child welfare system. In his native homeland, he helped fund schools and daycare centers in La Romana and Punta Cana.
Earlier this year, the designer recreated his Spring Presentation in Designed for a Cure in Miami, where he raised funds for the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University Of Miami Miller School Of Medicine. De la Renta began his own battle with cancer in 2006.
On October 21st, a handwritten message on Oscar de la Renta’s website relayed the news of his passing: “He died exactly as he wished: with tremendous grace, great dignity and very much on his own terms,” his family wrote. “We are working on arrangements to celebrate his life.” De la Renta is quoted as once saying: “ The great thing about fashion is that it always looks forward.”
The same can be said about the designer’s life. He gifted fashion lovers breathtaking red carpet moments that will always be remembered while instilling kindness and generosity in his everyday life. Oscar de la Renta’s spirit of elegance will be celebrated forever and will always carry forward. ■