Oscar De La Renta Was About Making Women Look And Feel Their Best His designs weren't experimental, says fashion critic Robin Givhan, but their popularity proved that there's still a place in our culture for fashion rooted in beauty, propriety and decorum.
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Oscar De La Renta Was About Making Women Look And Feel Their Best

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Oscar De La Renta Was About Making Women Look And Feel Their Best

Oscar De La Renta Was About Making Women Look And Feel Their Best

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's take a moment now to remember Oscar de la Renta. The fashion designer died yesterday at the age of 82. Robin Givhan covers fashion for The Washington Post and she's in our studios. Good morning.

ROBIN GIVHAN: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Glad you came by. Let's just list a few of the people who've been seen photographed wearing Oscar de la Renta's clothes - we can think of Nancy Reagan, we can think of Hillary Clinton, we could go on a while.

GIVHAN: Absolutely - Laura Bush and first lady Michelle Obama, who recently wore one of his dresses.

INSKEEP: A string of first ladies.

GIVHAN: A string first ladies, but you can expand that and you can include Sarah Jessica Parker and Nikki Minaj and Rihanna. And that's what I think is sort of extraordinary about his work - that it was able to reach across these generations. I mean, he dressed Laura Bush, but he also dressed Jenna Bush Hager. So that's a pretty wide range.

INSKEEP: And not only generations, but different kinds of people in different field. What was it about his clothing that stretched across like that?

GIVHAN: Well, I think he really understood sort of something very fundamental about women, no matter their age, no matter their demographic background - and that is they want to look pretty. And his clothes were not the sort of experimental garments where, you know, sleeves or armholes were optional. And he wasn't sort of this guy who made fashion all about him. You could really tell that the work was there to make women look and feel their best.

INSKEEP: Oh, now that's quite an insight. It's not about making a statement with your clothes, it's about clothes that help the person make a statement - help the woman make a statement.

GIVHAN: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of designers - and sometimes to their credit - they have an agenda, which is to say something about the culture or to show that they have this sort of higher-minded, intellectual pursuit. But I think sometimes we miss those designers or don't give them as many kudos, who really are about just making women look pretty.

INSKEEP: Where was he from?

GIVHAN: He was born in the Dominican Republic. And his dad owned an insurance agency. He had six sisters. And his mother encouraged his interest in fine arts. And that sort of got him off on a journey to Europe, where he was planning to study art, but he ended up getting involved in sketching for design houses. And that was kind of his entry point into the world of fashion.

INSKEEP: The most impressive thing that you're saying is that this is just so far from the world of music stars and first ladies and high-fashion. He seems to have come a long way in that long life.

GIVHAN: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the magical things about him was that he had a certain charm and charisma. And in many ways, it's something that you don't really see anymore. I mean, the last time I interviewed him, I recall that he apologized because he had taken off his tie. I mean, who does that? I don't think I've ever seen him in anything other than a suit. So there was a sense of propriety about him, but at the same time, he had a wicked sense of humor. He loved a good, dishy story.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah, he would gossip when you were interviewing him, a lot?

GIVHAN: He would absolutely gossip in a wonderful funny sort of naughty way. And, you know, I think that sort of endeared him to women because he was good fun to be around.

INSKEEP: In a few words, does he leave a legacy?

GIVHAN: He does leave a legacy, and that is that there is a place in our culture for a kind of fashion that is still rooted in beauty and propriety and decorum. And that none of that means that it's old-fashioned, that it can be just as modern as anything else and that it appeals to women from ages 80 to 20.

INSKEEP: Robin Givhan, thanks very much.

GIVHAN: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: She covers fashion for The Washington Post. And we've been talking about the late Oscar de la Renta, dead at age 82.

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