Where do I start writing about Oscar de La Renta? How about when I first heard about him?
I had been into my own personal clothing style at least from the age of 14. While my daily school attire was surfer-styled with checkered Vans, Levi’s 501s and t-shirts, I definitely had a formal and classic style for special occasions and Sundays for church. When my parents asked me what I wanted for my High School graduation, a Hugo Boss tweed jacket from JC Penney. I was the original Michael Keaton from the television show Family Ties.
Even though I regularly read GQ Magazine since the age of 14, I really only remember Armani and Hugo Boss as my go to high-end men’s clothing brands. Armani was and is such a huge marketing machine, not much else mattered. GQ magazine was so different back then as well. Very stodgy and stuffy. A magazine definitely for men with money. But the only mens magazine that had the style I liked. Everything else was trendy. Which I hated.
So when I browsed through stores like JC Penney and saw Oscar de la Renta, I didn’t bother much with the brand. I remember seeing some nice things from the brand, but I was too brainwashed by marketing. Plus, this is JC Penney after all. Back then, there was real junk in the aisles. Sure I got a nice Hugo Boss jacket at that store. But that was a diamond in the rough. If I wanted to get nicer things, Macy’s was next. And I didn’t see Oscar de la Renta at Macy’s. There was no way I could afford the real high-end stores so I didn’t even bother going into them.
Fast-forward many years and about a year after I’ve gotten serious about fashion photography. I was figuring out what and how to photograph and would go through all the big fashion magazines like Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire. My natural expensive taste would gravitate towards brands like Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana and Ralph Lauren. I knew I love rich colors and textures. But one brand that kept coming up over and over again when tearing out pages: Oscar de la Renta! I kept thinking: “This is the same brand I kept looking over when I was a teen?”
What do I love about his fashion sense? Well, rich and vibrant colors and textures obviously. Not just solid reds or blues, but patterns of color and lots of mixing them. And at least for the women’s side, I loved the dress styles. I think there’s an old-world charm and elegance with the gowns. Lastly, he isn’t held done by one defining style or method. As I look through his online store, there are different fabrics and style all over the place. There is nylon, cotton, satin, chiffon and a mix with all of them. But it’s all tasteful and classically styled.
So when de la Renta passed, I started to research him to learn about the man. I understand and relate to him on some degree. We have very similar family structures and upbringing. Though his family has accomplishments orders of magnitude more impressive than mine, at the core we’re very similar. So yes, we both love our colors and classic sensibilities. We border on decadent and flamboyant. But we don’t cross that line. Or I should say: he hasn’t! I could only assume that he has this style not because he’s trying to prove something. He’s about transcendence. As human beings we should try to look our best when we can or should. Every time I see him in a picture he always looks fantastic. Classic. I’ve seen what he likes for interiors and we’re on the same page. I’m a bit more of a minimalist in terms of decorations. But we would choose the same apartment.
The one thing that really impresses me about de la Renta was his work ethic. He came from money and could’ve done things much differently. He took jobs to make extra money while in university. He didn’t wire home for more money. Once he decided he wanted to be in fashion design, he worked and made connections. He made great connections at a young age. With his family’s experience in business and social-etiquette with the upper demographic, he knew how to do business and communicate with them.
Okay, so establishing some amazing contacts early in his career was probably a great advantage to moving to the top. I’ve seen this many times over in the photography business as well. Lots of people would be envious by the advantage. There are plenty of other pitfalls going this route. Can you image the pressure? What if you anger the wrong person? And you still have to work plenty. Work work work. Lots.
Like many ambitious creatives, I think big. There are several big designers I would love to work with and Oscar de la Renta was one of them. I think the work Oscar de la Renta was doing was unique and distinguished itself from its peers. Now, he has a team of designers working for him. But he was the direction and the buck stopped with him.
I couldn’t have gotten earlier into photography because of the road I’m on. I got to photography when I was supposed to. I wish I could’ve appreciated Oscar de la Renta’s work for a much longer time. His legacy will be remembered for a long time.