Nearly six months after his death, the late Oscar de la Renta is remembered for creating elegant, feminine gowns for socialites, First Ladies, and denizens of the red carpet. But his early collections were straight out of the the swinging '60s; one of his fabulously feathered frocks was even featured in Sunday's series premiere of Mad Men. This dress--currently on display on the second floor of FIDM's Los Angeles campus--reminds us that long before he was crowned king of American fashion, Oscar de la Renta was the cool new kid in town.
Oscar de la Renta
Gift of Alexis G. Scharff
Born in the Dominican Republic, de la Renta left home while still a teenager to study painting in Spain. He began sketching for fashion houses to make extra money and landed an apprenticeship with the legendary Cristóbal Balenciaga. By 1961, he was in Paris, working for the Lanvin couture house. Eager to try his hand at ready-to-wear, de la Renta turned down a job with Christian Dior and moved to New York in 1963, at the age of 30. By 1967, he had his own label, which promptly earned him back-to-back Coty Awards. Vogue pictured the dashing young designer, shirtless, water skiing in the Bahamas alongside the Cushing sisters and Contessa Consuelo Crespi in a 1968 spread headlined "The Beautiful People."
2001.633, back view
This piece dates from those early, carefree days of de la Renta's career. The acid green metallic brocade dress trimmed with beaded braid is paired with low-heeled pumps and metallic tights. Colorful, often patterned hosiery drew attention to the sharply rising hemlines of the late 1960s while offering women a pretense of modesty.
2001.633, bodice detail
A retrospective of the designer's work, Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style, is currently on view at the Savannah College of Art and Design; you can see more dresses by the master on the exhibition website.