Oscar de la Renta’s Legacy


Oscar de la Renta, with models from his collection for Elizabeth Arden, in1965

Though most people, when they think of Oscar de la Renta, think of the first ladies he dressed (Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton) or the celebrities he clothed for the red carpet (Amy Adams, Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Swift) or the wedding gowns he designed (for Amal Clooney, Huma Abedin, Kate Bosworth), I think of two entirely different things.

I think, for example, of how before every show was supposed to start — a good half-hour before every show was even supposed to start, which is to say about 50 minutes before every other designer’s show would really start — he would be standing backstage, in a perfectly tailored pinstriped shirt and silk tie, pocket handkerchief flopping just so, waiting for the audience to show up: keeping to the schedule in real time as opposed to fashion time, because it was the correct thing to do.

Even during the collections last month, when he was visibly frail, he was there, in suit and tie, proof positive of the power of dressing for the occasion.

And I think of a conversation we had in 2011 when I was working at The Financial Times and interviewed him about what he liked to do when he wasn’t in the office, and he started talking about the garden at his weekend house in Kent, Conn. (the place where he chose to die), a work in progress for the last 30-plus years and his favorite hobby. It had, he said, taught him a lot. Read more.