beauty

That beautiful dress that you love? It was probably inspired by this man.

BY ALYX GORMAN

The man responsible for a style of dressing that we now know universally as “tasteful” has died.

Oscar De La Renta was an icon of American fashion design, and without his vision royalty the world over (both the Hollywood and blue blooded kind), would be entirely without a blue print for how to dress.

Instead of knee-legnth, A-line dresses, topped with prim coats (that often match) and delightfully quaint little hats, Duchess Catherine might be living in tulle underskirts as daywear – ala Grace Kelly – or stuck with her mother in law’s lashings of brightly coloured duchess satin.

In his creations for Jacqueline Kennedy, and every single subsequent First Lady, Oscar De La Renta set the tone for how we expect women in decorative but auspicious positions to dress.

The prim, feminine dresses he created for Jacqueline Kennedy  –  often finished with an elegant bow – seem so natural to the eye now that it’s easy to forget what a revelation they were at the time. Kennedy was known for her love of French fashion, and De La Renta was the only American she’d make an exception for.

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He created garments that didn’t have too much pomp and drama – but just enough.

His clothes for political wives all allowed some freedom of movement, there were no corsets or excessively narrow skirts, no over-the-top flourishes. Instead they looked proper, in the way we want princesses and First Ladies to look proper. Bold colours, modest cuts, and finishes even an untrained eye can recognise as top quality.

Even his wedding dress for Amal Clooney fit the De La Renta mode – conservative, but beautifully so.

Born into a profoundly well established family in the Dominican Republic (a place to which he would become an ‘unofficial ambassador’ later in life), De La Renta has always been a designer for a society life and grand institutions.

His first breakthrough gown was on the back of a debutant (and ambassador’s daughter), Beatrice Lodge, worn on the cover of Life Magazine.

In addition to his namesake label, he’s had a hand in many of the great French fashion houses. He was mentored by Cristóbal Balenciaga. He worked with Antonio Del Castillo at Lanvin, and spent a decade (between 1993 and 2002) designing Haute Couture for Balmain.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of the kind of man De La Renta was, the kind of right-mannered good taste he championed, was the fact that in 1980, he redesigned the Boy Scout uniform. And he made those boys look very smart indeed.

As much as De La Renta loved grand institutions, they loved him back equally. He chaired the Council of Fashion Designers of America twice, and has won numerous awards, including state recognitions like the  Order of Christopher Columbus,  Légion d’honneur and  La Gran Cruz de la Orden del Mérito Civil.

However, modern eyes are most likely to recognise his work on the red carpet. Sarah Jessica Parker has been a particular muse – she wore a creation of his to the Met Gala earlier this year. “It was an enormous privilege to be dressed by Mr. de la Renta for so many occasions over the last 15 years,” she said in a release to the press today. “He was an inspiration and a man like no other.”

The next generation of talent, like Taylor Swift, Alison Williams, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson have also embrace De La Renta’s classic, fairytale style. The restraint he showed in dressing first ladies, he more than made up for with Hollywood drama. That ‘old Hollywood glamour’ look – the acres of skirt, the collarbone baring neckline, the considerable amounts of frou frou  – was done best by De La Renta. His women sometimes looked a little over the top, but they never looked silly or inelegant. It never mattered how much taffeta he used, his starlets never looked like cake toppers.

My all-time favorite designer has passed away. Oscar, it was an honor to wear your creations and to know you. In loving memory.

A photo posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

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Without him, actresses would no doubt still call out to “the golden age” in fashion, but they’d never look quite as good doing it.

There has only been one president’s wife since the former Mrs Kennedy who was seemingly resistant to De La Renta’s designs, and that was Michelle Obama. In her first seven years as FLOTUS, she didn’t wear him once – and the snub didn’t go unnoticed. Though Obama championed young American designers like Jason Wu and Thakoon, when she opted to wear Alexander McQueen at a state dinner for the president of China, De La Renta told Women’s Wear Daily:

“My understanding is that the visit was to promote American-Chinese trade — American products in China and Chinese products in America. Why do you wear European clothes?”

But then, just ten days before his death, Michelle Obama wore Oscar De La Renta for the first time. What’s more, she wore him at a cocktail party for the White House Fashion Education Workshop. An industry event.

It’s as if De La Renta were hanging on for that moment, that final First Lady. And her decision to wear his clothes felt inevitable.

Why? Because he created the kind of clothes that made women look not just beautiful, but respectable. And anyone who has heightened our respect for women deserves to be commended.

Vale Oscar De La Renta, we will miss your impeccable taste.