NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Celebrities, politicians and the fashion world alike are mourning the death of legendary designer Oscar de la Renta, who dressed first ladies, socialites and Hollywood stars for more than four decades.
De la Renta died Monday evening at his Connecticut home at age 82, only six weeks after his Fashion Week runway show in New York City.
But not before another high-profile honor was bestowed on him: The most famous bride in the world, Amal Alamuddin, wore a custom, off-the-shoulder de la Renta gown to wed George Clooney in Venice. Photos of the smiling designer perched on a table at the dress fitting appeared in Vogue.
PHOTOS: Iconic De La Renta Looks
De la Renta died surrounded by family, friends and “more than a few dogs,” according to a handwritten statement signed by his stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband, Alex Bolen. The statement did not specify a cause of death, but de la Renta had spoken in the past of having cancer.
“While our hearts are broken by the idea of life without Oscar, he is still very much with us. Oscar’s hard work, his intelligence and his love of life are at the heart of our company,” the statement said. “All that we have done, and all that we will do, is informed by his values and his spirit.”
De la Renta’s specialty was eveningwear, though he also was known for chic daytime suits favored by the women who would gather at the Four Seasons or Le Cirque at lunchtime. His signature looks were voluminous skirts, exquisite embroideries and rich colors.
Earlier this month, first lady Michelle Obama notably wore a de la Renta dress for the first time. De la Renta had criticized her several years earlier for not wearing an American label to a state dinner in 2011.
Among Obama’s predecessors favoring de la Renta were Laura Bush, who wore an icy blue gown by de la Renta to the 2005 inaugural ball, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wore a gold de la Renta in 1997.
“We will miss Oscar’s generous and warm personality, his charm, and his wonderful talents.” Bush said in a statement. “My daughters and I have many fond memories of visits with Oscar, who designed our favorite clothes, including Jenna’s wedding dress. We will always remember him as the man who made women look and feel beautiful.”
A statement from former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, said: “Oscar’s remarkable eye was matched only by his generous heart. His legacy of philanthropy extended from children in his home country who now have access to education and health care, to some of New York’s finest artists whose creativity has been sustained through his support.”
De la Renta made just as big a name for himself on the Hollywood red carpet with actresses of all ages. Penelope Cruz and Sandra Bullock were among the celebrities to don his feminine and opulent gowns. His clothes even were woven into episodes of “Sex and the City,” with its style icon, Carrie Bradshaw, comparing his designs to poetry.
One actress who wore a de la Renta gown to this year’s Oscars was Jennifer Garner.
“Mr. de la Renta loved women,” she said on Monday evening, wiping away tears. “And you saw it in every design that he did. He honored women’s features, he honored our bodies. He wasn’t afraid to pull back and let the woman be the star of the look.”
“There aren’t many fashion designers who could say they dressed everyone from Nancy Reagan to Rihanna, but he could say that,” Katrina Mitzeliotis with Hollywood Life told CBS 2’s Emily Smith.
“Everyone as young as Taylor Swift, she just tweeted he was her all-time favorite designer,” Hollywood
Life’s beauty director Dory Larrabee-Zayas said.
De la Renta was also deeply admired by his fellow designers. “He set the bar,” designer Dennis Basso said on Instagram Monday night. “But most of all he was a refined elegant gentleman.”
Vogue’s Anna Wintour wrote that his strength, his courage, “must have been with him in the hospital last week when he made the decision to turn off treatment; it was not the quality of life he wanted.”
Many others also took to Twitter and Instagram reacting to de la Renta’s death.
“My all-time favorite designer has passed away,” Taylor Swift said on Instagram. “Oscar, it was an honor to wear your creations and to know you. In loving memory.”
Encore, the oldest consignment shop in NYC, has a number of de La Renta designs.
“What he designs is really gorgeous, so elegant. Everything you can see is so perfect,” store manager Shirley Chen said. “If anything is older, even 10 years ago, people are still looking for it.”
When asked in 2011 if he would ever fully retire and relax on a beach, he said, “When I go underground I will.”
The designer’s path to New York’s Seventh Avenue took an unlikely route: He left his native Dominican Republic at 18 to study painting in Spain, but soon became sidetracked by fashion. The wife of the U.S. ambassador saw some of his sketches and asked him to make a dress for her daughter — a dress that landed on the cover of Life magazine.
That led to an apprenticeship with Cristobal Balenciaga, and then de la Renta moved to France to work for couture house Lanvin. By 1963, he was working for Elizabeth Arden couture in New York and in 1965 had launched his own label.
While de la Renta made Manhattan his primary home, he often visited the Dominican Republic and kept a home there. Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour was a frequent visitor and she has said traveling with him was like traveling with the president.
He also had a country home in northwestern Connecticut. Gardening and dancing were among his favorite diversions from work. “I’m a very restless person. I’m always doing something. The creative process never stops,” he said.
Besides his own label, de la Renta spearheaded the Pierre Balmain collection from 1993-2002, marking the first time an American designed for a French couture house, and he was awarded the French Legion of Honor with the rank of commander. He also received the Gold Medal Award from the king and queen of Spain.
De la Renta gave up the title of chief executive of his company in 2004, handing over business duties to the Bolens, but he remained active on the design end, continuing to show his collections during New York Fashion Week.
De la Renta also is survived by an adopted son, Moises, a designer at the company.
De la Renta’s first wife, French Vogue editor Francoise de Langlade, died in 1983.
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