LIFESTYLE

Oscar de la Renta, designer to the stars, dies at 82

The fashion world lost one its most illustrious stars Monday night.

Designer to the stars, Oscar de la Renta passed away in his home in Connecticut after a long battle with cancer. He was 82.

Press in his native Dominican Republic were the first to report the news of his passing.

Born in Santo Domingo on July 22, 1932, de la Renta became a household name in the fashioned world in the 1960s as one of the couturiers to dress former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

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.

He went on to dress other first ladies like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Laura Bush, Nancy Reagan and, most recently, Michelle Obama as well as some of the most famous women in Hollywood including current stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Penelope Cruz, Sandra Bullock and Anne Hathaway.

De la Renta died surrounded by family, friends and "more than a few dogs," according to a handwritten statement signed by his stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband, Alex Bolen. The statement did not specify a cause of death, but de la Renta had spoken in the past of having cancer.

"While our hearts are broken by the idea of life without Oscar, he is still very much with 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."

Earlier this month, Michelle Obama notably wore a de la Renta dress for the first time. De la Renta had criticized her several years earlier, for not wearing an American label to a state dinner in 2011.

Among Obama's predecessors favoring de la Renta were Laura Bush, who wore an icy blue gown by de la Renta to the 2005 inaugural ball, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wore a gold de la Renta in 1997.

"We will miss Oscar's generous and warm personality, his charm, and his wonderful talents." Bush said in a statement. "My daughters and I have many fond memories of visits with Oscar, who designed our favorite clothes, including Jenna's wedding dress. We will always remember him as the man who made women look and feel beautiful."

But de la Renta made just as big a name for himself on the Hollywood red carpet with feminine and opulent gowns. His clothes even were woven into episodes of "Sex and the City," with its style icon, Carrie Bradshaw, comparing his designs to poetry.

One actress who wore a de la Renta gown to this year's Oscars was Jennifer Garner.

"Mr. De la Renta loved women," she said on Monday evening, wiping away tears. "And you saw it in every design that he did. He honored women's features, he honored our bodies. He wasn't afraid to pull back and let the woman be the star of the look."

De la Renta was also deeply admired by his fellow designers. "He set the bar," designer Dennis Basso said on Instagram Monday night. "But most of all he was a refined elegant gentleman."

The designer's path to New York's Seventh Avenue took an unlikely route: He left his native Dominican Republic at age 18 to study painting at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid, Spain, but soon became sidetracked by fashion. The wife of the U.S. ambassador 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.

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 of Honor with the rank of commander. He also received the Gold Medal Award from the king and queen of Spain.

In 2006, the Oscar de la Renta label diversified into bridal wear. One of his most recent gowns was worn by Amal Alamuddin late last month during her wedding to George Clooney.

He told the AP in 2004 that his Hispanic roots had worked their way into his designs.

"I like light, color, luminosity. I like things full of color and vibrant," he said.

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 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 catered to his socialite friends and neighbors — he 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.

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 of Merit of Juan Pablo Duarte and the order of Cristobol Colon. In the United States, 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.

De la Renta gave up the title of chief executive of his company in 2004, handing over business duties to the Bolens, but he remained active on the design end, continuing to show his collections during New York Fashion Week.

De la Renta's first wife, French Vogue editor Francoise de Langlade, died in 1983.

De la Renta also is survived by an adopted son, Moises, a designer at the company.

Upon hearing the news of his death, Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan tweeted: “ RIP iconic designer Oscar De La Renta,who was a big part of 3 of my life's biggest moments.Much love & peace2 his family& all who loved him!”

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