Sophisticated and original, often exotic, always flattering and actually wearable, the fashions of Oscar de la Renta are a feast for the senses, and the women he dressed looked and felt beautiful.
His designs were showstoppers, worn by young stars like Taylor Swift, Jessica Chastain and Rihanna stepping out on the red carpet, or by former First Ladies Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton elegant at affairs of state.
These garments, from daywear to ball gowns, are among more than 120 ensembles produced by de la Renta over five incredibly productive and creative decades.
Spain, where he gained his first commissions, was the launching pad and inspiration for de la Renta’s long and successful career. His powerful response to Spanish artists can be seen in his use of jewel tones from the sacred paintings of El Greco. His passion for flamenco dance translates into dresses with cascading ruffles, while his tribute to the bullfight emerges with the colors of the matador’s cape – fuchsia on one side and saffron yellow on the other.
Caftans and kimonos and paisleys of Persia are some of his more exotic signature pieces reflecting lush influences from the Middle East to the Far East. The harem pants ensemble pictured here is one of many favorites that tickled my fashion sense.
Retrospective curator and lifelong friend André Leon Talley set out to “highlight the extraordinary depth of Oscar’s creative aesthetic …” That the former American editor-at-large for Vogue succeeds seemed to be the consensus of colleagues at a press preview of the retrospective.
Talley spoke of his friend’s “total respect” for his clients, how he honed his gift to pick the most gorgeous, opulent fabrics, and of his sense of joy — whether singing with Julio Iglesias, feeling inspired by the great women in his life, or his 40 year love of gardening.
One gallery has been turned into a sunlit garden, where large format video turns an entire wall into vistas of de la Renta’s garden in Connecticut. “Virtually” walking down garden pathways provided a delicious respite from one of our rare San Francisco downpours. Mannequins on a park bench flaunted their sable-trimmed silk satin dresses with flowered print.
The fabrics throughout the show are gorgeous — crepe de chine, organza, silk taffeta, silk faille, silk tulle, silk with embroidery, with appliqué, with gilded cock feathers. Colors from emerald to amethyst, marigold to rose, stimulate the senses as well as a sense of longing to step out of blue jeans and into one of the sensual creations of Oscar de la Renta.
Visiting de Young Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco Open 9:30 a.m.– 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays–Sundays. Open select holidays; closed most Mondays.