News of the Dominican-born American designer's death at age 82 came as a shock to many Canadians gathered at an opening night party for homegrown brand Joe Fresh at Toronto's World MasterCard Fashion Week.
"He was a force in American fashion," said Derick Chetty, fashion director at Zoomer Magazine. "He was in his 80s but he's worked so much. He's dressed first ladies, he's dressed American actresses, A-list actresses and it's incredible. He stayed on top throughout his entire career."
"Right until the very end, right up until his last collection, Oscar de la Renta knew how to make a woman look beautiful."
With a career spanning more than a half-century, his brand encompassed ready-to-wear, fragrances, accessories and bridal wear. De la Renta's ladylike creations have been a longtime favourite among the political and Hollywood elite, including actresses Sandra Bullock, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Sarah Jessica Parker. Michelle Obama recently donned a de la Renta design for the first time, following a fashionable path paved by wives of former U.S. presidents including Jacqueline Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.
International human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin recently wore a sweeping lace gown designed by de la Renta for her wedding to actor George Clooney, with the bride photographed at a dress fitting alongside the designer for U.S. Vogue.
De la Renta was no stranger to Canada, paying a visit to Toronto in 2010 for a charitable gala and runway show hosted by philanthropist Suzanne Rogers.
Fashion journalist Glen Baxter recalled following and documenting de la Renta when he was in Toronto for a show he was hosting called "A Day in the Life," as the designer greeted customers and salespeople where his brand was carried. Baxter described de la Renta as a "warm, giving man" and "an incredible talent."
"He was up there with the great designers," he said. "He's designed for some important people in the world and he would say that he loved women and he designed for women and he appreciated femininity and beauty."
Womenswear designer David Dixon said de la Renta was one of the designers he had looked up to his entire life.
"The minute I figured out fashion was an industry and something you could do, Oscar de la Renta was always at the forefront of that. And I don't think anyone can ever replace the mark that he's made."
Leesa Butler, founder and editor of The F-list, remembered de la Renta as a "very gracious man" who made a significant impact on the fashion industry.
"He brought the ladylike out of fashion. He really did," she said. "He just embraced all of that, and so many designers after him, Carolina Herrera is one of them, I really felt fell into his footsteps. There are so many designers that really pulled from Oscar's sense of classic femininity and beauty."
De la Renta gave up the title of chief executive of his company in 2004, handing over business duties to stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband, Alex Bolen, but he remained active on the design end, continuing to show his collections during New York Fashion Week.
During an interview with The Canadian Press in 2010, de la Renta still showed no signs of slowing and said he saw every day as a learning process — even after 50-plus years in fashion.
"People ask me, 'When are you going to stop doing what you're doing?' I say, 'The day when I will think or say that I have learned it all, then (is) the day I should stop.''
Asked for words of advice for up-and-coming designers, de la Renta had a clear credo: Work hard, understand the consumer, and "don't believe in your fame."
"You become famous because your product becomes well-known. It's not about yourself, it's about what you do,'' he said.
"It's about women, in this particular case, identifying with you because they like what you're doing. I think that's what creates a brand."
— With files from The Associated Press.
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