Oscar de la Renta, the fashion designer whose red carpet gowns and evening wear made him a favorite with everyone from luminaries of the stage and screen to first ladies, died Monday. He was 82.
De la Renta died at home Monday evening in Connecticut surrounded by family and friends and "more than a few dogs," according to a handwritten statement signed by two of his company's executives, Alex Bolen and Eliza Bolen.
"While our hearts are broken by the idea of life without Oscar, he is still very much us. Oscar's hard work, his intelligence and his love of life are at the heart of our company," the statement said. "All that we have done, and all that we will do, is informed by his values and his spirit. Through Oscar's example we know the way forward. We will make Oscar very proud of us by continuing in an even stronger way the work that Oscar loved so much."
The Dominican-born de la Renta designed dresses for numerous first ladies, including Jackie Kennedy, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, with the latter two wearing de la Renta gowns to inaugural balls. Most recently, he designed the wedding dress for Amal Alamuddin to wear when she married George Clooney last month.
Laura Bush released a statement late Monday saying in part, "We will miss Oscar's generous and warm personality, his charm, and his wonderful talents.
"My daughters and I have many fond memories of visits with Oscar, who designed our favorite clothes ... We will always remember him as the man who made women look and feel beautiful."
The late `60s and early `70s were a defining moment in U.S. fashion as New York-based designers finally carved a look of their own that was finally taken seriously by Europeans. De la Renta and his peers, including the late Bill Blass, Roy Halston and Geoffrey Beene, defined American style -- and their influence is still spotted today.
De la Renta's specialty was eveningwear, though he also was known for chic daytime suits favored by the women who would gather at the Four Seasons or Le Cirque at lunchtime. His signature looks were voluminous skirts, exquisite embroideries and rich colors.
De la Renta's path to New York's Seventh Avenue took an unlikely route: He left his native Dominican Republic at age 18 to study painting in Spain but soon became sidetracked by fashion. The wife of the U.S. Ambassador to Spain saw some of his sketches and asked him to make a dress for her daughter -- a dress that landed on the cover of Life magazine.
That led to an apprenticeship with Cristobal Balenciaga, and then de la Renta moved to France to work for couture house Lanvin. By 1963, he was working for Elizabeth Arden couture in New York and in 1965 had launched his own label.
He told the AP in 2004 that his Hispanic roots worked their way into his designs.
"I like light, color, luminosity. I like things full of color and vibrant," he said.
And while de la Renta made Manhattan his primary home, he often visited the Dominican Republic and kept a home there. Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour was a frequent visitor and she has said traveling with him was like traveling with the president. "He's a superstar," she said.
He also had a country home in northwestern Connecticut. Gardening and dancing were among his favorite diversions from work. "I'm a very restless person. I'm always doing something. The creative process never stops," he said.
As a designer, De la Renta always catered to his socialite friends and neighbors -- as the designer and his wife, Annette, were fixtures on the black-tie charity circuit -- but he did make occasional efforts to reach the masses, including launching a mid-priced line in 2004 and developing a dozen or so perfumes, the first, called Oscar, was introduced in 1977 and more recently, Rosamor.
He was an avid patron of the arts, serving as a board member of The Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall, among others, and he devoted considerable time to children's charity, including New Yorkers for Children. He also helped fund schools and day-care centers in La Romana and Punta Cana in his native country.
The Dominican Republic honored de la Renta with the order al Merito de Juan Pablo Duarte and the order of Cristobol Colon. Here in the U.S., he received the Coty American Fashion Critics Award twice, was named womenswear designer of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2000 and also received a lifetime achievement award from the CFDA -- an organization for which he served as president in the 1980s.
In addition to his own label, de la Renta spearheaded the Pierre Balmain collection from 1993-2002, marking the first time an American designed for a French couture house, and he was awarded the French Legion d'Honneur as a Commandeur. He also received the Gold Medal Award from the king and queen of Spain.
De la Renta gave up the title of chief executive of his company in 2004, handing over business duties to stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband, Alex Bolen, but he remained active on the design end, continuing to show his collections during New York Fashion Week.
De la Renta also is survived by an adopted son, Moises, a designer at the company.
De la Renta's first wife, French Vogue editor Francoise de Langlade, died in 1983.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.