The Oscar de la Renta Retrospective Opening
Among all the glorious frocks and coats to be coveted at the new Oscar de la Renta retrospective at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, many a woman stopped to murmur appreciatively in front of a yellow knee length dress covered in a clear, rhinestone-studded coat. Both elegant and fantastic, it also looked perfectly engineered to repel the rain pouring down outside. Not that the inclement weather stopped the crowd from dressing up for the March 10 press preview. There were Burberry umbrellas, architectural bags, at least one cape, and sky-high heels despite the 9:30 a.m. start time.
The exhibition, which opens to the public on March 12, features over 130 pieces spanning five decades of de la Renta’s storied career. Curated by André Leon Talley, former Vogue editor-at-large, the show is designed by New York’s Kevin Daly Architects and divided into nine themes including the designer’s regional influences, daywear and red carpet looks. In a room devoted to the influence of the garden on de la Renta’s work (the designer had a lifelong green thumb) a massive video display of his Connecticut home’s garden illuminates a collection of romantic floral-patterned gowns. The show is replete with elaborate embroidery, ruffles, sumptuous red, stark black, and cotton-candy explosions of tulle set against striking backdrops.
Talley discussed the designer’s legacy during a conversation with Richard Benefield, Acting Director and Exhibition Organizer of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco at the March 10 event. Talley teared up as he talked about his long friendship with de la Renta, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 82.
“He respected the woman’s body, he did not want to make clothes that screamed out ‘I am an avant garde designer, I am to be considered an artist’—although his clothes are very beautifully achieved,” said Talley.
Known for his feminine designs, Talley said the designer loved singing and dancing and had a knack for picking out gorgeous fabrics, his mind “churning, churning, churning” as he studied them.
“It was a very organic process,” said Talley, who wore a dramatic plum-colored cape over one shoulder. “It was not fraught. It was not riddled with tension, depression or deep thoughts.”
Talley also shared stories of de la Renta’s playful side, such as the time he presented the editor with a tarantula in a cage while they were staying at the designer’s estate in his native Dominican Republic. Sensing that de la Renta was going to pull a prank, Talley was prepared and responded coolly, “Oh, please.”
It was de la Renta’s ability to dress a wide swath of clients that Talley pinpointed as one of his key talents.
“This is why Oscar was so great, he could dress young Taylor Swift who has the most beautiful pink dress, with the most beautiful silk embroideredery, with an enormous train and beautiful bow—he could respond to Taylor swift's needs, who was 24 years old—and of course first lady Laura Bush and first lady Nancy Reagan,” said Talley.
Visitors can gaze upon Taylor’s pink dress, and de la Renta’s many other creations, until May 30th.
Story by Andy Wright.