Saturday, November 1, 2014

Oscar’s ups and gowns: Canada’s fashion community recalls the late Oscar de la Renta’s greatest hits

We asked a selection of stylish Canadians to offer their thoughts on Oscar de la Renta, who died this week aged 82. Here’s what they had to say:

I have to say, the passing of Oscar de la Renta is a personal loss to me. I will always remember this dress pink dress from Sex and the City. His simplicity in design, and extravagance in execution was definitely a catalysts for my career. I tried to emulate his work, and I’m sure other will for many years to come.

For me, de la Renta’s most iconic dress was his French rose shift with circle skirt that Sarah Jessica Parker had worn in the Sex and  the City series as Carrie Bradshaw (pictured at top). The style epitomized the mainstays of his brand and vision: romance and optimism. As the designer that I believe best bridged the worlds of the couturiers and contemporary fashion, wardrobing an actress for a television series exemplified his willingness to adapt within our rapidly evolving industry.

Importantly, that willingness to adapt never led to a diffusion of his brand, its codes, and arguably greatest of all, him the legend.

A lot of people disagree with me when I say this but I am not a big fan of the fashion on Sex And The City, except a few occasions. The pink silk faille de la Renta dress that “The Russian” gave Carrie Bradshaw (pictured at top) was one of those exceptions. It was couture — simple and joyful at the same time.

I have always been an admirer of Oscar and his collections. In fact, my very favourite dress (pictured at left) was designed by him. Joe and I once had the pleasure of being invited to his incredibly beautiful house for dinner and he was everything I imagined and more: charming, elegant, tasteful.

Oscar will always be remembered as having great respect for women and wanting to make them feel feminine and beautiful with his designs. I think he understood the unique power of the person wearing the dress, and probably revelled in the personal style his clients brought to his clothes. This polka-dot dress from the fall 2014 season showed how he was such a master with couture fabrics and adornments, but still created so much glamour and flair with these simple black and white prints.

Too often, red carpet gowns look more like department store prom dresses than exquisite designs worthy of the world’s leading ladies. Oscar stood out because he put real fashion on the red carpet. One of my favourite de la Renta pieces was the punkish black lattice tulle gown model Natasha Poly wore at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. It’s rebellious, but still classically beautiful. The dress proves Oscar was still at the top of his game at an age when most others would be kicking back mimosas in Florida. He was a timeless talent.

Only a week ago I was in Houston viewing a large private collection of vintage couture and stumbled across a gown by Oscar de la Renta that I have hunted for years to acquire. It is the ad campaign gown from 1970. The original ad was done in black and white but the gown in person is a beautiful, almost acid yellow, mixed with charcoal and silvers & detailed with rhinestones and sable cuffs. It is Oscar elevated and even today, 43 years later, it stands as a testament to his genius. For me, the early ODLR years from the late sixties to the early seventies will always be near and dear to my heart. His work with lamé, silks and metallics, silk brocades and glittering details are the cornerstone of what you see in his work right up until his final collection.

I have always respected Oscar de la Renta’s work for many reasons. His pieces were always chic and elegant, even in voluminous and colourful dresses. What I respect the most about him was how he managed to remain present and in focus. This striped dress — for its implicitly and chic — is very simple, but so elegant and refined.

Oscar de la Renta was the pinnacle of what women dreamt of. He, and his designs held such an elegance and grace that made any woman glow.  One of my favourite gowns that he created was worn by Amy Adams at the 2013 Academy Awards. Only a great designer like Oscar can make a gown that size look like air — and so effortlessly stunning. He will always be an inspiration.

My favourite Oscar de la Renta garment is one I’ve never seen but it has the best story as it has a Canuck connection and, better yet, parts of it may be apocryphal. Between 1963 and 1965, de la Renta worked as couture designer for Elizabeth Arden, pictured at left, who was born in Woodbridge, Ontario. As a gift, he made a careful copy of a tattered hostess gown worn by his boss. Arden, however, continued to wear the old one. She told de la Renta she was saving his version for a special occasion. When he left to start his own label, he assumed the spurned Arden would never wear it. A year later she died. At her open casket, de la Renta found Arden in his dress.

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