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The God of Glamour

Oscar de la Renta’s extravagant retrospective at the de Young showcases 50 years of lavish style.


More than 130 Oscar de la Renta looks will soon be seen at the de Young Museum.

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Oscar de la Renta fitting Beatrice Cabot Lodge’s debutante dress in Madrid in 1956.

Photo: Getty Images

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Taylor Swift in a custom silk organza gown at the Costume Institute Gala in 2014.

Photo: Getty Images

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Hillary Rodham Clinton in a custom chiné silk taffeta ensemble for an India state dinner in 2000.

Photo: Getty Images

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The lender list for the de Young Museum retrospective of late designer Oscar de la Renta’s work reads like a fantasy dinner party: Amy Adams, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Anna Wintour, Rihanna, Taylor Swift. All of them provided their own cherished pieces of feathered, ruffled, Oscar-perfected finery—and there are over 100 more styles joining theirs in the show. What do you expect? It’s de la Renta, says the exhibit’s curator, former Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley. “His clothes speak to all generations of women. Everyone from youthful girls to society ladies dreamed of wearing an Oscar de la Renta.”

The exhibit, which opens on March 12 at the de Young, has been in the works since before the designer’s death in 2014, at the age of 82. De la Renta, a frequent Bay Area visitor, created custom gowns for local patrons including Ann Getty and Dede Wilsey. One copper satin dress for Wilsey was modeled after the de Young’s distinctive metal facade.

Talley, a close friend of the designer’s since their introduction by Diana Vreeland in 1974, was an obvious choice to oversee the retrospective. “Oscar and I spoke the same vocabulary about high style,” he says. Under Talley’s direction, the exhibit will be an opulent feast for the eyes, divided into sections according to de la Renta hallmarks. In the garden room, lush floral ensembles will be backed by a large-scale video installation depicting the garden at the designer’s home in Kent, Connecticut. (“Oscar did not design jumpsuits for weeding,” says Talley dryly.) In the Eastern-influenced series, hand-painted caftans and brocaded silk gowns will be displayed in front of enormous gold-lacquered screens and antique Chinese urns. In the section devoted to Spain—an exuberant homage to de la Renta’s decade in Madrid—polka-dotted, flounced skirts and vibrant silk capes evoke flamenco dancers and bullfighters. “Everything in Oscar’s personal life was reflected in his creative life,” notes Talley.

Talley will be holding court at the exhibition’s opening gala, honoring the memory of his friend and mentor wrought in silk and taffeta.

"Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective" runs March 12–May 30 at the de Young Museum.

Originally published in the March issue of
San Francisco

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