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Oscar de la Renta: 1932—: Fashion Designer

Created Off-the-rack Designs

Now intent on a career in fashion, de la Renta moved to Paris in 1961 to become a couture assistant for fashion designer Antonio Canovas del Castillo. After taking a two-week crash course in dressmaking, de la Renta joined Castillo's couture, specializing in tailoring. De la Renta began to excel in the fashion industry, and in 1963, after meeting fashion designer Elizabeth Arden at a dinner party, he was invited to join Arden's New York firm as her chief in-house designer. Seeing New York as the next step on the path to fame and wealth, de la Renta quickly agreed. For the next two years he designed high-end clothing that catered to wealthy women. While at Elizabeth Arden, de la Renta became convinced that off-the-rack clothing was a largely untapped market with vast potential. When he failed to convince Arden to develop a new ready-to-wear line, de la Renta decided to step out on his own.

At a Glance . . .

Born on July 22, 1932, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, son of Oscar and Maria Antonia deFiallo de la Renta; married Françoise de Lang-lade, 1967 (died 1983); married Annette Reed, 1989; children: adopted son. Education: Attended National School of Art, Santo Domingo, 1950-52; attended Academia de San Fernando, Madrid, 1953-55.

Career: Staff designer under Balenciaga, Madrid, beginning 1949; assistant designer to Antonio Castiollo, Lanvin-Castiollo, Paris, 1961-63; Elizabeth Arden couture, New York, designer, 1963-65; Jane Derby Inc., partner, and designer, 1965-69; Oscar de la Renta Couture, Oscar de la Renta II, de la Renta Furs and Jewelry, and Oscar de la Renta Ltd., designer/CEO, 1973–; de la Renta specialty shop, Santo Domingo, owner, 1968–; couture collection for Pierre Balmain, France, designer, 1993–.

Memberships: Board of Directors: Metropolitan Opera; Carnegie Hall; Americas Society; Spanish Institute.

Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics' Winnie Award, New York, 1967 and 1968; Neiman-Marcus Award, New York, 1968; Golden Tiberius Award, 1969; American Printed Fabrics Council Award, New York, 1971; Coty Hall of Fame Award, 1973; Fragrance Foundation Award, New York, 1978; Caballero of the Order of San Pablo Duarte, and Gran Commandante of the Order of Cristobal Colon, Dominican Republic, 1972. Jack Dempsey Award for humanitarian efforts, 1988; Lifetime Achievement Award; Council of Fashion Designers of America, 1990; Designer of the Year, Council of Fashion Designers of America, 2000.

Leaving Elizabeth Arden in 1965, de la Renta partnered with Ben and Gerald Shaw in the purchase of the Seventh Avenue ready-to-wear design firm of Jane Derby, who was preparing to retire. Although the move was risky—de la Renta took a drastic cut in pay—the deal provided him with one-third ownership of the company, a challenge and an opportunity he couldn't refuse. After Derby's death the following year, the firm's name was changed to Oscar de la Renta Inc. In 1967, the same year in which he won his first Coty American Fashion Critics Award, de la Renta married Françoise de la Langlade, editor-in-chief of French Vogue magazine. With his wife's help, de la Renta received valuable publicity, and comments on his designs, and those who had been seen wearing his clothing began to appear in the society columns. This added to de la Renta's name recognition and to the aura of his signature style.

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