Why women wore Oscar de la Renta

Celebrities and first ladies honored Oscar de la Renta as much for his character as for his dresses. De la Renta always put his client's wishes first. 

Oscar de la Renta’s approach to fashion – as much as his stylistic grace – have been lauded since the designer's death on Monday. 

His customers have celebrated the icon in Instagram pictures, Tweets, and public statements on his influence. Beyond his dress’s beautiful lines and shapes, many recognized how Mr. de la Renta put his clients first.

Former White House first lady Laura Bush, whose daughter Jenna wore a wedding dress that de la Renta designed, said that her family would “always remember him as the man who made women look and feel beautiful.” 

The clarity of his vision about beauty was highlighted in his description of the fashion runway.

 “A runway is spectacle. It’s only fashion when a woman puts it on. Being well dressed hasn’t much to do with having good clothes,” he once said, according to the New York Times

This client-first mentality was woven into obituaries celebrating de la Renta’s life.

Actor Jennifer Garner told USA Today Monday that de la Renta had the humility to listen and respect his clients wishes. 

“He always wanted women to be the star of the look. He was never trying to take over and be the boss. The sketches that he did for me at the Oscars last year, every single one of them he sketched my face in. It wasn’t just a sketch of some dress —  it was how it would be on me, specifically. I was so lucky to get to work with him and to know him even just a little bit.”

To Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan, his death meant the loss of “a designer with that rarest gift: He understood the sweet, universal desires of women.” She continued, “He helped them look like their most romantic vision of themselves.” 

In Vogue, editor, Anna Wintour described her son’s wedding, for which de la Renta designed the bride’s dress. After being delayed by travel complications, Ms. Wintour wrote, “he turned up with a smile and kiss at the last minute to put the veil on Elizabeth and send her down the aisle in the dress of her dreams. Every girl’s dreams.”   

He seemed to realize these dreams everywhere. And a Who's Who of celebrities have the photos and gowns to prove it. 

Singer Taylor Swift posted a photo on Instagram of a sweeping pink de la Renta ball gown, draping down red carpet stairs.

Laura Bush wore a silver dress that shimmered as she danced with her husband in 2005 at the Inaugural Ball. She also oversaw the installation of ande la Renta exhibition at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas that ran from July to October. A similar de la Renta exhibition was held at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center last year.

First lady Michelle Obama, who the New York Times reported had not worn clothing designed by him in her first seven years in the White House, was outfitted in de la Renta at an October cocktail party. (The Times notes that de la Renta reprimanded the first lady for wearing foreign labels several years ago).

De la Renta's approach marked a breath of fresh air in an industry that many say is dominated by personal brands and big egos.

Recently, Chanel and Fendi designer Karl Lagerfeld spoke out against the “ego problems” of young designers. (Mr. Lagerfeld’s cat, notably, has two maids and has inspired handbags and a book). “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) highlighted Wintour’s personality – which a 2011 Forbes profile described as the “blade behind her gaze.” A Mark Jacobs ad campaign included Victoria Beckham poking out of a white bag dressed with Mr. Jacobs’s clean logo.

That’s not to say that de la Renta didn’t push boundaries, but his client-first sleek work aimed to satisfy, never to shock. In memorials and social media posts, those who remember the icon recall this piece of his life’s work.

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