10 Things You Didn’t Know About Oscar de la Renta

Oscar de la Renta, a name that needs no introduction in the world of fashion, is known as one of the most prestigious fashion designers of the 20th and 21st centuries. With his eminent and iconic designs gracing the international fashion scene for over six decades, he has left an indelible mark on the industry. But beyond the glitz and glamour, there are some intriguing facts about Oscar de la Renta that many don’t know. So, let’s delve into the lesser known aspects of this remarkable designer’s life and work.

1. His Early Struggles

De la Renta had a humble beginning, and his journey into fashion was fraught with challenges. Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, he was the only son among seven siblings. His mother’s death when he was a young child was a major setback. Despite this, he developed an early interest in art and dreamt of becoming an abstract painter.

In pursuit of his passion, at 18, de la Renta left for Spain to study painting at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. His journey into fashion began almost accidentally, as he started sketching for leading Spanish fashion houses to earn extra money.

2. Balenciaga Was His First Mentor

While in Spain, Oscar de la Renta caught the eye of the legendary fashion icon Cristóbal Balenciaga. Impressed by de la Renta’s talent, Balenciaga took him under his wing and became his first fashion mentor. Working under Balenciaga, de la Renta honed his skills and gathered the experience that would lay the foundation for his future success in the fashion industry.

It was under Balenciaga’s tutelage that de la Renta developed a fine aesthetic sense, learnt the intricacies of design and developed a commitment to quality that he maintained throughout his career.

3. He Spent Two Decades at Balmain

De la Renta’s association with the French fashion house Balmain is not widely known. He joined Balmain as a couturier in 1993 and held the position for over two decades, becoming the first American to do so. During his time there, he introduced his iconic styles and provided a fresh perspective to the French fashion scene.

His designs for Balmain were a hit among the European and American elite, strengthening his reputation and solidifying his position in the international fashion world.

4. He Dressed First Ladies

De la Renta’s designs were known for their elegance and charm, making them a favourite amongst the world’s most powerful women. He has dressed several First Ladies including Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama.

He was especially close to Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton. Nancy Reagan often wore his gowns for her official White House portraits, and he designed Hillary’s gown for Bill Clinton’s second inaugural ball. His designs embodied the power and grace of these iconic women.

5. Launch of His Perfume Line

Not just satisfied with clothing, de la Renta expanded into the fragrance market in 1977, launching his perfume line with the signature Oscar de la Renta perfume. This fragrance which manifests notes of basil, jasmine, lavender, and sandalwood was an instant hit, marking his successful entry into the beauty industry.

This was later followed by several successful fragrances for both women and men. His impact on the perfume industry was so significant that in 1990, he was awarded the Fragrance Foundation Perennial Success Award.

6. He Was a Humanitarian

De la Renta’s commitment towards humanitarian work was as deep as his passion for fashion. He made several contributions in his native Dominican Republic including building a school, an orphanage, and a medical facility. His philanthropic work earned him the International Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in 2001.

Through the Oscar de la Renta Foundation, he worked extensively in public education and providing healthcare to underprivileged children in the Dominican Republic and the United States. His foundation continues his humanitarian legacy even after his passing in 2014.

7. He Was a Proud Dominican

Despite spending a large part of his career in Europe and the United States, Oscar de la Renta always identified strongly with his Dominican roots. He represented his homeland in the international fashion scene, making him a symbol of pride for the Dominican Republic.

His achievements made him a national hero and he was honoured as one of the Most Distinguished Citizens by the Dominican government. His love for his native land was reflected in his designs, which often incorporated bright Caribbean colours.

8. He Received Prestigious Awards

De la Renta’s immense contribution to the fashion industry has been acknowledged through numerous awards. He won two Coty Awards, the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award, and was named the Women’s Wear Designer of the Year.

Even after his death, his achievements continue to be recognised. In 2015, de la Renta was posthumously awarded the Founder’s Award by the CFDA for his exceptional contribution to the fashion industry.

9. He Had a Signature Flower

Oscar de la Renta loved gardens and flowers, especially the beauty of orchids. So much so, that he had an orchid named after him—the Oscar de la Renta Orchid, a hybrid type that grows in the Dominican Republic. He often used this flower as inspiration for his designs, transforming its beauty into couture.

His passion for gardens and love for orchids can be seen in his fashion shows, where floral designs and inspirations were a recurring theme. This love extended to his personal life and home as well, which feature exquisite gardens and a collection of beautiful orchids.

10. He Had a Passion for Home Decor

Beyond the world of elegant couture and fragrances, de la Renta had another passion—home décor. He was known for his tastefully decorated homes that mirrored his elegant and sophisticated style. His Connecticut home, in particular, offers a glimpse into his exquisite design aesthetic and love for beautiful surroundings.

In 2002, de la Renta launched his home products line that included furniture, bedding, rugs, tabletop items, and more. These items reflected his refined lifestyle, making them a hit among the high-end market.

These are just a few lesser-known facts about the incredible life and career of Oscar de la Renta. A deeply admired and respected figure in the industry, his legacy lives on through his exquisite fashion and fragrance lines, his humanitarian acts, and his dedication to art and design.

Useful links:
Official website of Oscar de la Renta
Oscar de la Renta Foundation
Balmain’s Official Website
Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)
The Fragrance Foundation