The fashion world let out a collective, “oh, no!” on Monday night at the news of Oscar de la Renta’s death. He had been ill from cancer for some time, but the word still shook celebrities and less heralded consumers alike.
De la Renta was famous for his ladylike clothes, especially cocktail dresses and ballgowns, that adorned everyone from first ladies to Brooke Astor, Sarah Jessica Parker to Taylor Swift. Born in the Dominican Republic, he trained in Paris before opening his own label in 1966. Unlike many big-name designers, owned by corporate entities such as LVMH, de la Renta remained a rare independent whose annual global revenue was estimated by the Wall Street Journal at $600 million.
If there is any bright spot in his passing, it appears that de la Renta had his fashion house in order. He had just dressed the most famous bride of the year, Amal Clooney. Earlier this month, de la Renta announced that Peter Copping, of Nina Ricci, would become the label’s artistic director.
De la Renta’s management has been entrusted the past few years to his step-daughter, Eliza Bolen, and her husband, Alex Bolen. She is the daughter of de la Renta’s second wife, Annette Reed, who has a formidable influence on the New York philanthropic scene. New York Magazine wrote about the Bolens in this story from 2005.
Although fashion is a fickle business, the garment trade is one where designers endure long beyond their natural lives. French fashion houses such as Chanel, Dior, and Yves St. Laurent have gone on years and decades after the deaths of their founders. In England, Sarah Burton has been an able, and perhaps even more successful operator of Alexander McQueen than its founder.
In the U.S., Anne Klein has gone on long past her death. So, there is every reason to think that as long as the designs remain fresh and production is consistent, the house of de la Renta will still be on the scene for some time to come.
The man himself, of course, will be much missed by anyone who came in contact with him. I have a small collection of de la Renta, much of it bought a decade ago, and always vowed that if these pieces wore out, I’d fly to Hong Kong and have them copied.
De la Renta himself will be much, much more difficult to replicate, if only because he seemed to love his work and his customers. Here is a look at his final show at New York Fashion Week, with his collection for spring 2015.
If de la Renta fashions are sold in your market, it’s worth asking store owners and customers what they think will happen with the label, now that de la Renta himself is gone.
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