Thursday, October 23, 2014

What I learned from Oscar de la Renta

When legendary designer Oscar de la Renta was in town for "The Art of Style" gala fundraiser hosted by the Mint Museum Auxiliary in 2011, I was thrilled to have a chance to talk with him one-on-one earlier that day during an event at Belk in honor of his new perfume, Esprit d’Oscar. (The photo above is of Oscar de la Renta at the gala with Clay Grubb, Kathleen Jameson and Deidre Grubb.) 

It was a surreal experience to be standing there with other guests and turn around and see the legend stroll in looking fit and tan with his stepdaughter Eliza Bolen, a business savvy style maker whom I’ve admired for years. Eliza was the inspiration behind his new perfume and her husband Alex is CEO of de la Renta’s company. The stylish trio could not have been more charming.

When it was my turn to chat with "Mister" (as his staff affectionately refers to him) he filled me in on some of his thought processes that have helped keep him on top of the fashion fickle industry for decades.

When I asked him what makes a woman elegant, he told me that elegance is how you live, not just how you dress. "To be dedicated to living elegantly takes a lot of discipline," was his verdict. "It’s about understanding yourself and being very visual and dedicated to surrounding yourself with beauty."

As far as his secret to not only remaining relevant, but setting the standard for others in his field, he explained his success this way: "I’m very competitive, and I constantly challenge myself."

And although he had thoroughly enjoyed the Art of Style gala the night before that included an exhibit of vintage and current gowns of his design on loan from the private collections of Charlotte women, he told me that not looking back is key. “When I see a dress that I designed, I don’t know if I did it 20 years ago or two years ago – I’m always moving forward and thinking about the future.”

It seems the future of his company is in good, familiar hands, especially when I found out that Eliza and Alex’s young son played a part in designing a dress for his grandfather’s collection. 

De la Renta was discussing his idea of using a Monet-like print for one of his gowns when his grandson spoke up and said that he was studying Monet in school and had created a painting inspired by the artist’s work. De la Renta loved it so much, he sent it off to his fabric maker in Italy who replicated the design.
“Now he’s asking about his commission,” joked Alex.  

Here are a few more of my favorite photos by Paul Williams III from the gala. I know anyone who ever had the pleasure of meeting Mister de la Renta will never forget his charm, talent and wisdom. 

Oscar de la Renta and Chandra Johnson

Committee members Laura Vinroot Poole and Sarah Pearce.

Committee members Lisa Weisiger and Pam Stowe. 

Art of Style co-chair Marianna Sheridan listens to Oscar de la Renta. Based on the relationships she formed during the planning of these events, Marianna was named Oscar de la Renta's Archivist in March 2012, a role that she continues to this day.

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