C California Style

Finale of OSCAR DE LA RENTA’s last runway show (Spring 2015). PHOTO: courtesy of Oscar de la Renta LLC.
Iman in a hand-painted print silk caftan from Summer 1982. PHOTO: courtesy of Oscar de la Renta Archive.
A violet silk faille evening dress with metallic embroidery from the designer’s Fall 2013 collection. PHOTO: Courtesy of Oscar de la Renta.

Memory Lane

by C California Style

The de Young celebrates the life and work of Oscar de la Renta in a world premiere retrospective.

When legendary designer Oscar de la Renta died in October 2014, a collective gasp could be heard from the industry, as well as scores of the soigné women who draped themselves in his exquisite red-carpet-friendly creations.

Yet they weren’t just lamenting a fashion-world loss. Fans and friends felt the passing of a graciously elegant esprit, too, which this storied couturier, a Dominican Republic native, embodied with distinctive élan.

That memory reignites this month at the de Young Museum when the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco presents “Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective.” Curated by André Leon Talley, former American editor-at-large for Vogue, the exhibition (in collaboration with the designer’s family and the House of Oscar de la Renta) features more than 130 ensembles (spanning 1963 to 2015) of his most iconic looks organized thematically, ranging from Spanish influence to daywear. Statement pieces include gowns worn by former first lady Laura Bush; the designer’s widow, Annette de la Renta; and Bay Area locals such as philanthropist Ann Getty and Dede Wilsey, board of trustees president of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Wilsey, a friend and client since 1963, broached the exhibition to the designer two years ago in Lake Tahoe. Since 1969, the League to Save Lake Tahoe has hosted a Saks Fifth Avenue fashion show each summer, a cause de la Renta inherited from the late designer Bill Blass, and which the house continues to support.

“Oscar appreciated that the de Young has a commitment to ‘fashion as art,’ which he knew from our previous shows on Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent and his former mentor, Balenciaga,” says Wilsey.

During a recent visit with her mother, Ruth Buchanan, Wilsey shared exhibition updates as Buchanan fondly reminisced about a beloved 1963 Oscar gown. “For a 97-year-old woman to intimately describe a dress from half a century ago, well, Oscar was that great a designer,” says Wilsey. March 12-May 30; 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., S.F., 415-750-3600; deyoung.famsf.org

Written by CATHERINE BIGELOW.