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15 Facts About Oscar de la Renta's Extraordinary Life

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

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Oscar de la Renta's homepage now includes a scanned, hand-written note of the designer's passing from his stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband, Alex Bolen, who are the executive vice president and CEO of Oscar de la Renta LLC, respectively. In the note, they write of de la Renta: "He died exactly as he lived: with tremendous grace, great dignity and very much on his own terms."

Meanwhile, the fashion media is remembering the life of de la Renta, who was born in the Dominican Republic, moved to Spain and worked in the ateliers of Balenciaga, Dior, and Lanvin before becoming an icon of American fashion. Here are some surprising de la Renta anecdotes from Anna Wintour, André Leon Talley, Robin Givhan, Cathy Horyn, and more.

· WWD called de la Renta "fashion's favorite ladies' man," writing that his "Latin-lover good looks, fascination with feminine style, strong color sense and impeccable social skills—a wonderful sense of humor among them—made him a court dressmaker to a large portion of the international set and a designer for First Ladies from the time of Betty Ford."

· de la Renta didn't always want to be a designer. He originally wanted to be a painter, but his father disapproved. WWD runs a quote from de la Renta saying, "My mother was sympathetic to my wishes, though, and she helped me go to Spain when I was 17. I stayed there for 10 years, and while I was there, my mother died. My father [who was in insurance] was still not too pleased about my intended career, but then I got into designing clothes by accident."

· The New York Times notes that de la Renta had a signature way of opening phone calls: "How are you, my darling? Tell me the gossip."

· InStyle's Eric Wilson writes: "The first thing Oscar de la Renta ever said to me, some 15 years ago, was this: 'I have the memory of a mosquito.'"

· Suzy Menkes writes that de la Renta was the "epitome of the gallant gentleman." Wilson also calls de la Renta the "ultimate gentleman" but Wilson noted that he could be prickly. "I have been on the receiving end of a many a phone call from de la Renta, complaining about this or that designer whom he felt was given more importance than him in print, the most recent example of his mischievousness was his criticism of First Lady Michelle Obama for not doing enough to promote American fashion," Wilson writes.

· Michelle Obama finally wore de la Renta this month, and InStyle runs her succinct quote about wearing Oscar de la Renta's designs. Wilson writes that the current First Lady said: "You can't go wrong with Oscar."

· The designer really loved dominoes. The New York Times obit mentions this about him: "First-time visitors, seeking him out in the late afternoon, were surprised to find him in the staff quarters, hellbent on winning at dominoes."

· de la Renta's business stayed relevant for more than six decades, and he even conquered Twitter through his publicist's account @OscarPRGirl, the Wall Street Journal notes.

· de La Renta was so influential in D.C. power circles that the Wall Street Journal recalls how in 2006, four attendees at the Kennedy Center Honors wore the same red $8,500 Oscar de la Renta dress to a White House Reception, including First Lady Laura Bush. She graciously changed dresses.

· The New York Times quotes Hillary Clinton as saying of de la Renta: "He's been working for 20 years to turn me into a fashion icon."

· de la Renta had the ability to design for everyone from pop stars to CEOS. Robin Givhan writes in the Washington Post: "His collections were a pleasure shared by black rappers, white society princesses and one Mrs. Amal Clooney—a human-rights lawyer of Lebanese descent."

· The designer personally supported an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, according to André Leon Talley. "This was one of his passions—he provided housing, food, education, and hope for those beautiful children," Talley writes.

· Talley said that the de la Rentas mentored him in the ways of New York society after Talley met Oscar in 1975. Talley writes: "I also considered him one of my close, best friends. He truly cared about my well-being, no matter if it was my weight-loss battle, or was I lonely, and would I come dine with he and Annette at home in New York. I spent Thanksgiving with him, about eight or nine years ago, just the three of us and his son Moises in Kent, Connecticut. Family was of the utmost importance to him,"

· Anna Wintour remembered her last conversation with de La Renta, writing: "His last words to me were I love you, and I said I love you back." She also remembered how thrilled he was to design Amal Clooney's wedding dress, and his appearance at her son's wedding: "He was determined to come to [my son] Charlie's wedding, but was sent by his assistant to the wrong airport. Yet 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 dream."

· And Wintour shares the most touching story about de la Renta's relationship with his wife Annette: "Oscar was everything you could want a friend to be. Annette was his perfect partner, creating those magical houses and gardens together, giving extraordinary seemingly effortless dinners, and always taking care of each other. She slept on a cot in the hospital every night he was there. Theirs was the greatest, most life-enhancing love affair. Last week in the hospital he said that she never wears the beautiful jewelry he gave her, and she said simply, 'I have you.'"
· Robin Givhan on Oscar de la Renta: With style, he wooed women of all stripes [WaPo]
· Oscar de la Renta Dies [WWD]
· Suzy Menkes: A Tribute To Oscar de la Renta [Vogue]
· Remembering Oscar de la Renta [Vogue]
· Oscar de la Renta, Who Clothed Stars and Became One, Dies at 82 [NYT]
· Remembering Iconic Fashion Designer Oscar de la Renta [InStyle]
· Oscar de la Renta Has Passed Away at 82 [Racked]