Oscar de la Renta examining fabrics in the ’60s. (Photo: Courtesy of De Young Museum)
This weekend, San Francisco celebrated the opening of “Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective” at its de Young museum, a thorough exhibition of more than 130 of the designer’s most showstopping creations. Curated by Vogue’s André Leon Talley, the exhibit spans the entirety of the iconic designer’s career, from his early days in Spain to his work for Balmain in the ’80s and ’90s to the stunning creations he designed for his namesake label from the ’60s into the 2010s. The takeaway? That Mr. De la Renta’s knack for theatricality was matched only by his deep devotion to his work and the women who wore it.
Organized into five galleries by theme—Spanish influences, Eastern influences, Russian influences, garden references, and gowns and red carpet creations—the exhibition provides plenty of eye candy. Dresses worn by Taylor Swift, Laura Bush, and Rihanna are displayed in the red carpet section, and a 2010 Vogue photograph by Steven Meisel depicting models in De la Renta’s gowns with sky-high mohawks is re-created on mannequins, hairdos and all. But for all the wowza moments that cover the de Young’s galleries, there are also plenty of small details about the life of Mr. De la Renta to be discovered in the show’s catalog.
One of the more insightful entries is a 1967 sketch of a sable-trimmed, polychrome lamé gown. Done as part of his Fall 1967 show, dubbed the “Russian Look” collection at the time for its luxe pre-Soviet motifs, the illustration is done in shades of gray pencil depicting the elegant bell shape of the dress with light gradation to indicate its rich pattern. More interesting than the drawing style, though, is the woman Mr. De la Renta drew wearing it. With a swan neck, half-rendered bouffant, and prominent profile, she is a near doppelgänger for De la Renta’s second wife, Annette, whom he met in the ’60s while married to French Vogue editor Françoise de Langlade and married in 1989. Intentional or a serendipitous coincidence? Head to the de Young museum and see for yourself.
“Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective” is open at the de Young museum in San Francisco through May 30.
A Fall 1967 Oscar de la Renta dress and the designer’s sketch of the piece. (Photo: Courtesy of De Young Museum)