Oscar de la Renta dies at 82; fashion designer behind red-carpet icons

Oscar de la Renta, the Dominican-born fashion designer who spent more than 50 years dressing royalty, Hollywood celebrities and U.S. first ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy to Hillary Clinton, died Monday. He was 82.

A spokesman for his wife, Annette de la Renta, confirmed his death to the Los Angeles Times but would provide no other details.


De la Renta created the wedding gown and some of the trousseau Amal Alamuddin wore for her Sept. 27 wedding to George Clooney. Vogue reported that at Alamuddin's final fitting, De la Renta spoke about the importance of a wedding dress, calling it "the most important dress in the life of a woman."

The "Guru of Glamour," who acquired U.S. citizenship in 1969, was the first American to become the top designer of a French fashion house. As head of Paris-based Balmain for 10 years and for his own label, De la Renta produced evening gowns and dresses that seemed ubiquitous on the cover of Vogue magazine and on the red carpet at the Academy Awards, competing with the likes of Valentino for a high-society clientele.

"He makes a woman look like a woman, feel like a woman," designer Diane von Furstenberg said in a video tribute to De la Renta for an exhibit at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. "He has that old-fashioned elegance, and yet he's able to interpret it in such a modern way."

His blend of European luxury clothing with American casual wear was worn by models Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford in the 1990s, by actresses Penelope Cruz, Sarah Jessica Parker and Anne Hathaway, and by royalty. Archduchess Maria of Austria wore a De la Renta gown for her 1996 wedding, and Queen Noor of Jordan was photographed in his designs for Vogue in 2003.

De la Renta's designs, which former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg once said "have been to more award shows than Meryl Streep," were best-known for being worn by America's first ladies, including Kennedy and Nancy Reagan. In 2001, he dressed Laura Bush in a silver long-sleeved gown for President George W. Bush's inauguration, and Hillary Clinton in a gold cape over a gold long-sleeved gown for the 1997 inauguration ball.

"I still remember when Hillary walked out in that gown," President Clinton said in the video tribute. "I thought, 'Oh my God, that's beautiful.' I still think it's probably the best gift Oscar ever gave us, beyond his friendship."

The following year, Hillary Clinton became the first wife of a U.S. president to appear on the cover of Vogue. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, the future secretary of state donned a De la Renta dress in black velvet for the occasion.

First Lady Michelle Obama had a frosty relationship with De la Renta, snubbing his designs for years after he publicly criticized her choice of clothing for a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in 2009 and at a state dinner with Chinese officials two years later. This month, she appeared in the designer's clothing for the first time, wearing a De la Renta dress at a White House cocktail party.

Oscar Aristides Ortiz de la Renta Fiallo was born July 22, 1932, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. His father, Oscar Avelino de la Renta, was a Puerto Rican insurance agent and his mother, Maria Antonia Fiallo, was from a well-to-do Dominican family. De la Renta was his mother's only son, and he had six stepsisters, according to Vogue.

At the urging of his mother, who was terminally ill with multiple sclerosis, De la Renta moved to Madrid at age 17 to study painting at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. In the mid-1950s, he secured a job with fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga as an illustrator before working for Lanvin in Paris under designer Antonio del Castillo.

"Castillo says, 'I like your sketches. I'd like you to work for me,'" De la Renta said in a 2013 interview with Alexander Wang for "And I said, 'Well, in fact, I've already accepted another job.' So he said, 'How much are they paying you?' So I made a huge big lie, and I gave them a higher amount."

De la Renta returned to New York in 1963 with the belief that fashion's future lay in ready-to-wear clothing, rather than haute couture. He worked for Elizabeth Arden and Jane Derby Inc., which he took over after Derby's death in 1965. De la Renta bought the business and replaced her name with his on the label. Later, he designed for Balmain from 1993 until 2002.

De la Renta was the recipient of the American fashion industry's Coty Award in 1967 and 1968; a lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1990; and the Gold Medal of Bellas Artes from the king of Spain in 2000.

The designer was also a philanthropist, founding the Casa del Nino orphanage in La Romana, Dominican Republic.


Last week, De la Renta's fashion house named his successor, the British designer Peter Copping, who created elegant clothing at Nina Ricci, where he was creative director for five years. Copping was due to begin work as the new creative director at De la Renta ‎on Nov. 4, and his first collection for the house is to be shown during New York Fashion Week in February.

De la Renta was married twice, the first time to Francoise de Langlade, an editor-in-chief of French Vogue, who died in 1983. Six years later, he married Annette Engelhard. Survivors include a son, Moises.

"Style begins by looking good naked," De la Renta said in a 2013 interview with Britain's Telegraph newspaper. "It's a discipline. And if you don't dress well every day, you lose the habit. It's not about what you wear, but how you live your life."

Henry writes for Bloomberg News. Times staff writers Ryan Parker, Lauren Raab and Susan Denley contributed to this report.