Archive of Oscar de la Renta maintains the designer’s memory and runway looks
When Oscar de la Renta took his final bow following his spring 2015 fashion show, his legacy was only beginning. The collection would be one for the books: a garden-party themed collection primed for the picking by his devoted socialite followers. After the typical cycle of press, red carpets and more than a couple orders by his jet-set patrons, the collection would not rest in peace.
The Oscar de la Renta team has developed an impressive archive celebrating the dynamic work of the designer serving the next generation of creatives charged with upholding his reputation. Accessed by the design team and those concerned with ensuring the de la Renta legacy doesn’t go down in flames, the archive has become a type of living organism, constantly evolving and growing.
The spring 2015 collection was not a swan song. Taking the reins following Peter Copping’s stint as creative director and brief, interim period where his role was vacant, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia mark the next phase of transition. And though surely this is just one of the first shufflings of creative directors that will come for the line — as seems to be the new normal for legendary fashion houses — it only contributes to the aura surrounding Oscar de la Renta as a man — a gentleman at his core — and his life’s work.
It’s with this passing of batons that referral to de la Renta’s approach becomes essential for his memory and adherence to what the line represents: uncompromised glamour executed with exquisite and thoughtful technique. Alex Bolen, chief executive officer of Oscar de la Renta said, “We need to preserve our heritage, our legacy and history. We want to keep our history close to remember and understand what the brand is about. That kicks in with the design team now as we think of his 50-year history and what we have done since.”
And history there is. With over five decades in the industry, tracking Oscar de la Renta’s robust body of work becomes a feat unto itself. In a time where attention is centered specifically on the new, a surging undertow celebrating the old has emerged. “To build a well-researched fashion archive is to delve into social and design history. Modern heroes have emerged in the field such as Hamish Bowles, whose infectious enthusiasm and boundless knowledge on the topic inspire others to begin their own journeys of collecting. My hope is that it signals a return and renewed interest for younger generations in understanding the importance of craft, said Gemma Sudlow, vice president and specialist head of the department of private and iconic collections at Christie’s.
At Oscar de la Renta, there are those willing to roll up their sleeves and get to it. Housed in Queens, N.Y., at Uovo storage facility, the Oscar de la Renta archive is a working design tool. Bolen said, “It is a highly inspirational room for our design team to visit and get an idea of what Oscar was into. It’s easily accessed — to call it a warehouse is incorrect. It’s easy to use and a very accommodating environment. On top of it, we don’t have to go out there [to see the full archive], they’ve taken storage to the next level with their app and software to sort through things.”
There’s much to consider. The archive is a sprawling space exploding with iconic gowns, bold colors and breathtaking embellishments. The team at Oscar de la Renta doesn’t store the pieces in garment bags. Instead, these memorable collections are organized by style and theme, rather than season.
This is to inspire creativity and facilitate the pulling of pieces that will work well in exhibits such as “Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective” that opened at San Francisco’s de Young museum earlier this year. The show is set to travel, which calls for switching out pieces. “The principle way that the archive is impacting our daily life is for the retrospective of Oscar’s work. We’re able to reinterpret the exhibit for other markets in the world — what’s appropriate for Beijing or Moscow or Houston – and we can very easily sort through, and then when we have questions [pieces] seem to arrive [to the Manhattan office] in just five minutes,” said Bolen.
The archive is a treasure trove. Memorable pieces dating back to de la Renta’s time working for Elizabeth Arden are even in attendance. All of de la Renta’s collections are represented in the archive. With that, the necessary storage and upkeep of the facility is a must. Sudlow said, “With any work of art or collectible, impeccable provenance, quality and condition are key to determining and retaining value. Textiles in particular can be fragile and vulnerable to the vagaries of temperature, moisture and light changes in the environments in which they are stored or displayed.”
Uovo delivers. The storage facility is bringing personal and corporate archives into the future. It provides a user-friendly mobile app and software that allows virtual perusal and calling in of items. What’s more, a single point person is assigned to each client to help execute site visits and the design of the storage space itself in order to maximize the space.
Identifying that collectors and companies are looking to interact with archives, rather than stash away for little to no visiting, Uovo provides gallerylike viewing rooms for collectors to show items with potential buyers. “The first time I went out there, I walked away impressed by what they do for fashion brands. I thought seriously of staging our fall fashion show there. It’s a high-concept venue,” said Bolen.
Others tend to agree. Uovo counts Hamish Bowles and conglomerate company, PVH Corp. — owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger — among its clients. PVH archives garments, photographic prints, design materials and renderings, accessories, small machinery film reels, and other materials in its space. The archive team visits Uovo weekly for inspirational visits and design appointments.
The visibility of iconic collections and archives is rising in relevance, which demand high-quality storage. Coming this spring to Christie’s: a sale of Betsy Bloomingdale’s collection, “Betsy Bloomingdale: A Life in Style.” Sudlow said, “We will use her personal belongings to tell her inimitable story, or perhaps more accurately to retell it as a coda or final chapter to a life well lived. We look forward to how that story will unfold in the coming months.”
This is a shared sentiment detected within the team at Oscar de la Renta. As a tour of the archive proceeded, more than a couple gasps were emitted. There’s a sense of total and complete respect underpinned by a curiosity to decrypt the genius behind inimitable pieces constructed by masterful technique.
Storytelling and the revitalization of the heritage of iconic archives and fashion houses is rising to the surface, perhaps especially in response to the accelerated digital consumption of trends and fashion news. As social media serves as the almighty equalizer, democratizing access to once exclusive fashion lines has piqued interest in the man responsible for creating countless inspirational moments seen best in his archives, perhaps. A final bow, indeed.