Oscar de la Renta, one of the most legendary fashion designers of all time, passed this Monday at 82 years old. De la Renta’s health was described earlier this month by the New York Times as “precarious,” and sources say he died of complications related to cancer.
De la Renta was born in the Dominican Republic in 1932 and left when he was 18 to study painting in Madrid. He started an apprenticeship with designer Cristobal Balenciaga who became his mentor. Then, he landed a job with Lanvin, which relocated him to New York City.
“When I first arrived here in 1963, all the names on clothes were the name of [the store],” he told Gotham magazine last year. “You made your clothes, you sold them to the store, and they quickly removed the label and put the label of the store. If it was a dress at Saks Fifth Avenue, the label was Saks Fifth Avenue. Bergdorf Goodman was Bergdorf Goodman. But it was a time of transition.”
Later on, in 1965, De la Renta launched his own label and soon caught the eye of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Soon other first ladies like Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton would follow along with stars like Amy Adams, Sandra Bullock and Jessica Biel. Most recently, the couturier designed Amal Clooney’s wedding gown this past summer for her wedding to George Clooney.
Even though, as various publications have pointed out, de la Renta fashioned himself as a man of leisure, he was also a savvy businessman. The Wall Street Journal notes that, “fashion is also big business, and de la Renta proved to be as adept as an entrepreneur as he was a designer. ‘Oscar’ was a dress, a fragrance, a table setting, a pair of sunglasses, a carpet – you name it.”
“The only realities in life are that you are born, and that you die,” de la Renta once said. “We always think we are going to live forever. The dying aspect we will never accept. The one thing about having this kind of warning is how you appreciate every single day of life.”