The man who loved women

There are men who like women. There are men who admire and respect them. And then, of course, there are men who merely want to bed them.

But there are probably very few men who love women.

Oscar de la Renta, who passed away Monday, Oct. 20 at age 82 at his home in Kent, Conn., was one such rarity.

“We’ve lost our finest American designer,” says Mary Jane Denzer, whose eponymous new White Plains store near The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester is chock-full of his designs. “He loved women. And everyone who ever wore him – or longed to – loved Oscar. His clothes were feminine and flattering. He made women look beautiful.”

It didn’t matter if the woman had the classic pear shape of Hillary Rodham Clinton – who was like a figure out of Jacques Louis David in the wine-colored velvet de la Renta she wore for an Annie Leibovitz photograph as First Lady – or the reedy silhouhette of Amal Alamuddin, George Clooney’s bride, whose wedding dress Oscar recently designed.

Never did a model, actress or first lady have to worry about a wardrobe malfunction on the red carpet.

“Oscar knew what to accentuate and what not to,” says Mary Jane, whose fashion show of de la Rentas to benefit White Plains Hospital remains a highlight in WAG country. “He was an Old World gentleman.”

Oscar came by that courtliness naturally, growing up as he did in the Dominican Republic, the son and grandson of strong women, the kid brother of six sisters and the boyish admirer of his uncle’s Russian equestrian mistress.

A passion for the arts and an impeccable couture pedigree in Europe (stints with Balenciaga in Madrid and Christian Dior and Lanvin in Paris) provided de la Renta with expertise in using color, pattern, texture and form to capture feminine curves and sensibility.

But there was more to it than that, of course. De la Renta’s clothes worked, because he worked, as a human being and a humanist. He loved women, because he loved people and life. As Mary Jane says, “He always had a twinkle in his eye. He was so charming and debonair.”

He transcended fashion to the realm of style. His clothes and accessories were timely, because they were timeless.

Little offered greater insight into the man than Assouline’s new book, “Oscar de la Renta: The Style, Inspiration, and Life of Oscar de la Renta,” which WAG was delighted to feature in its May “Flower Power” issue.

Oscar, you see, was a passionate gardener at homes on Park Avenue and in Kent and the Dominican Republic. And it was as a gardener that he offered his philosophy of life to Vanessa Friedman, the chief fashion writer for The New York Times, whose superb appraisal of that life in The Times’ Oct. 23 Styles section is must reading for fans of Oscar and good writing:

“…You need patience for something to grow,” he told her.

“And faith. Because ‘the trees you plant you may never see in their full glory, while the one you enjoy now were put there by people who may never have seen the results of their work.”

Oscar shared that faith and patience with his elegant wife, Annette. (His first wife, the equally elegant Françoise de Langlade, onetime French Vogue fashion editor, died of breast cancer in 1983.) Annette survives him, as does a son, Moises, a stepson Charlie and stepdaughters Beatrice and Eliza.

Eliza and husband Alex Bolen are steering the company now, and Peter Copping, formerly of Nina Ricci, is the creative director.

“Both he and Oscar love to enhance the body,” Mary Jane says. “He will carry the company forward.”

But forgive us if we from time to time steal a glance backward at the man who loved woman, the humanist designer, life’s contant gardener. – Georgette Gouveia

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