It’s been a long wait for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and its finally here, the world premiere of Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective presented at the de Young Museum. It’s the first exhibit of its kind celebrating the life and career of the Dominican fashion designer, and took about a year to come to fruition. He is one of fashion’s most influential designers and has dressed many prominent figures since becoming internationally known in the late 1960’s. The exhibit includes a collection of over 100 garments spanning over fifty years.
Former Vogue editor-at-large and personal friend of the designer, André Leon Talley is the curator of the highly anticipated display. Each room represents a theme including different times in his career, cultures that influenced his design, nature, and Hollywood. When entering the exhibit you’ll first be introduced to his earlier work including daywear and evening wear. After that you’ll stroll through Spanish, Eastern, and Russian inspired garments. Each room is also adorned with art and vases to contribute to the ambiance.
The garden room incorporates a large video of one of his gardens surrounded by spring fashion pieces. The next room has a re-creation of a 2010 Vogue photo shoot with models from China, Japan, and South Korea wearing his ball gowns and sporting punk rock hairstyles. You’re then welcomed to the final room with a video loop of Hollywood stars the designer dressed for red carpet events. Ball gowns are placed in front of mirrors reflecting the glamour that he infused into Hollywood and socialites from all angles. The display right before exiting to the gift shop (also designed to represent the icon) include some dresses worn by Karlie Kloss, Amy Adams, Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Penelope Cruz and Rihanna.
The celebrated designer is described as being humble. He was someone who respected his clients and always had the intention of making them feel beautiful. It was never about how he would be perceived by outsiders; it was always about the woman he was dressing. “He wanted to make women look beautiful, that’s why he was a great designer, he loved women, and he saw no reason why every one of us regardless of shape, size, color, anything, shouldn’t be absolutely beautiful in one of his dresses” said Board President of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Diane B. Wilsey.
Andre also spoke about Oscar and got emotional remembering his dear friend and how he influenced him by just being himself and accepting people for who they are, “He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself”. We often hear about his red carpet creations but he also dressed many political women like Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush but, the most unique pieces were always reserved for his wife. “Each year he makes a special dress for her [Annette], no one else has the privilege or the luck to be able to own that dress because it’s designed just for her” shared Andre. “He was inspired by great women. He was inspired by his wives. He always said at the end of a fitting, if there was a question about a dress, he would always say out loud to himself, ‘Will my wife love it?’ ‘Would Annette wear it?’ And that meant, if she would wear it in his mind, the dress was a success.”
Walking through each gallery and looking at each style one could imagine being in them. They were vibrant and accentuated the female form unlike some other designers. They’re not designed to fit a person like it would on a hanger. Some were beautifully simple and others more opulent. It’s an exhibit that the fashionista and non-fashionista can enjoy alike. Andre really captured his friend the way he remembers him in this exhibit “Oscar was all about feeling wonderful in life, he loved living in the sun, he loved nature, he loved his native land, and he just wanted everyone to be joyful in life” and that’s the feeling you get when experiencing each room.
Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective runs May 12th through May 30th at the de Young Museum. Tickets range from $15 to $30.