Óscar Arístides Renta Fiallo (22 July 1932 – 20 October 2014), known professionally as Oscar de la Renta, was a Dominican fashion designer. Born in Santo Domingo, he was trained by Cristóbal Balenciaga and Antonio del Castillo. De la Renta became internationally known in the 1960s as one of the couturiers who dressed Jacqueline Kennedy. He worked for Lanvin and Balmain. His eponymous fashion house has boutiques around the world including in Harrods of London and Madison Avenue in New York.
De la Renta, the youngest of seven children and the only boy in his family, was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to a Dominican mother, Carmen María Antonia Fiallo, and a Puerto Rican father, Óscar Avelino De La Renta, owner of an insurance company. The Fiallos, De la Renta’s mother’s family, were so embedded in Dominican society that they could count poets, scholars, and businessmen, as well as top army brass among their members. Their origin in the island can be traced back to the foundation of San Carlos de Tenerife in 1685 by Canarian settlers.
A maternal uncle, Luis Arístides Fiallo Cabral, was a doctor, lawyer, and architect, who received every degree the University of Santo Domingo could offer. Another maternal uncle, Fabio Fiallo, was a diplomat and poet. On his father’s side, De la Renta’s great-great grandfather José Ortíz de la Renta was the first mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico, elected by popular vote and who had the distinction of serving as mayor eight times, the most ever for the city.
De la Renta was raised Catholic in a protective family. His mother died from complications of multiple sclerosis when he was 18.
At the age of 18, he went to study painting in Spain at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. For extra money, he drew clothes for newspapers and fashion houses. After Francesca Lodge, the wife of John Davis Lodge, the U.S. Ambassador to Spain, saw some of his dress sketches, she commissioned de la Renta to design a gown for her daughter. The dress appeared on the cover of Life magazine that fall. He quickly became interested in the world of fashion design and began sketching for leading Spanish fashion houses, which soon led to an apprenticeship with Spain’s most renowned couturier, Cristóbal Balenciaga. He considered Cristóbal Balenciaga his mentor. In 1961, de la Renta left Spain to join Antonio del Castillo as a couture assistant at Lanvin in Paris.
In 1963, de la Renta turned to Diana Vreeland, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, for advice, saying that what he really wanted was to “get into ready to wear, because that’s where the money is”. Vreeland replied, “Then go to Arden because you will make your reputation faster. She is not a designer, so she will promote you. At the other place, you will always be eclipsed by the name of Dior.” De la Renta proceeded to work for Arden for two years in New York City before he went to work for Jane Derby, an American fashion house. When Derby died in August 1965, de la Renta took over the label.
From 1993 to 2002, de la Renta designed the haute couture collection for the house of Balmain, becoming the first Dominican to design for a French couture house. In 2006, the Oscar de la Renta label diversified into bridal wear.
De la Renta’s designs have been worn by a diverse group of distinguished women and celebrities. De la Renta’s brand saw international wholesale growth beginning in 2003, under the direction of CEO Alex Bolen, from five to seventy-five locations. De la Renta’s ready-to-wear designs are available in his retail stores, online, and with select wholesale partners worldwide.
In 2014, the George W. Bush Presidential Center hosted an exhibit entitled “Oscar de la Renta: Five Decades of Style” which shared the designer’s creations for Mrs. Bush and America’s First Ladies.
De la Renta died of complications from cancer on October 20, 2014, at his home in Kent, Connecticut, at the age of 82.