The last words Oscar de la Renta said to me, his cheeks rosy from the setting sun streaming into his 42nd Street studio, were “Flowers! Flowers! Flowers!”
As if I had not already taken in the pink roses, peonies and hydrangeas circling the backdrop to his summer 2015 minute show. And the rich flower patterns suggesting an eternal spring of an optimistic mind.
Oscar, even at 82, was so convivial — partly due to his background in a lush, privileged world in the Dominican Republic, but also his uptown life in New York. Add a cosmopolitan sprinkle from his first wife Francoise de Langlade, a former editor-in-chief of French Vogue, and his couture background working with the inimitable Cristóbal Balenciaga, and time at Balmain in Paris.
I never saw Oscar — or his designs — ruffled or messy-casual, which is why it was difficult to take on board a disgraced John Galliano’s one season period of redemption, when, working with Oscar, he deliberately gave an “untidy” look to the collection.
I think of Oscar as the epitome of elegance, whether in a suit or a torso-tracing tuxedo. He would stand with his wife Annette Reed at his table at the Met Ball, greeting guests graciously, but with a broad Latin smile. The epitome of the gallant gentleman.
I know that the cream of Hollywood — as well as first ladies — wore Oscar de la Renta. I remember Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City hugging herself with joy at the gorgeousness of Oscar’s dresses.
To the long river of faithful clients was added the wedding dress — another “say it with flowers” gown — for Amal Alamuddin’s marriage last month to George Clooney.
What an exit for Oscar! His polished leather shoes will now be filled by Peter Copping, formerly of Nina Ricci.
It would be a mistake to consider Oscar de la Renta only as a classic designer to high society, starting with Jacqueline Kennedy in the Sixties.
There was always that colour and sumptuous verdure and grandeur of Santo Domingo. I actually think that his work became stronger and more relevant as fashion embraced a multicultural world.
The more Upper East Side ladies retired into beige cashmere minimalism, the more joyous and energetic Oscar’s style became.
Above all, I shall miss his voice — the way he said “Suzy”, pronounced as a deep, rich “Soozy” — always with a twinkle in his eye.
Oscar de la Renta (1932-2014)