By  on September 12, 2008

DALLAS — It was a love fest for Oscar de la Renta on Thursday at Neiman Marcus’ flagship here.

As the main attraction of the annual fashion show and benefit for the Crystal Charity Ball, the designer was whisked from his Wednesday show at New York Fashion Week to Dallas on the private jet of Julie Turner, who chaired the luncheon, which raises money to support services for local children.

“He is fabulous,” Turner said. “Anyone can wear his collection. He is a ladies’ designer, and he loves the ladies and you can tell. We have raised $851,000 so far, and I think Oscar had a lot to do with that.”

For his part, de la Renta seemed gleeful to be among the faithful.

“I have a long relationship with Neiman Marcus, and the woman in Texas is a special kind of consumer,” said the designer, who was sitting in his new boutique on the flagship’s second floor before showing his resort collection.

“Yesterday we went to a cocktail party and I was counting my dresses,” he said. “There were probably 50 or 60 women there and 90 percent of them were wearing my dresses. I started counting, ‘This one costs $2,000’….People here in this city love to dress.”

The parade of de la Renta’s dresses and suits continued at the luncheon as all 11 of the women named “best dressed” by the charity chose to wear his styles as they were formally presented on the runway. An estimated one-half to two-thirds of the 558 guests also wore looks by the designer.

“Oscar has become a top vendor for us especially at the couture level,” said Karen Katz, president and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus, who was standing nearby and wearing, of course, one of his dresses.

“Not many people do what he does,” Katz said. “He dresses so many different generations of women — young fashion customers and women like me who want to look young and then our mothers wear it. At Oscar’s spring show [Wednesday], a lot of the young editors were wearing Oscar. It was very interesting to watch.”

De la Renta’s overall sales are up 25 percent for fall and are projected to gain at least 20 percent for spring, said Alex Bolen, chief executive officer of the company.

“Knock on wood,” Bolen said. “I keep hearing about gloom, but we haven’t seen it.”

De la Renta attributed his success to focusing on the changing needs of his “most important consumer” — the professional woman.

“In the Seventies and Eighties women felt the only way to dress was in a manly manner, like a gray suit,” he said. “I think this is the most challenging and exciting time to be a designer because there has never been a woman so in control of her own destiny as today. The women today know the power of femininity and putting on lipstick.”

The company will open its first European store in about 10 days in Madrid, where the designer has lived and worked and has a loyal following, Bolen said. De la Renta plans to visit Madrid Oct. 15 to launch the store and receive a fashion award presented by Telva magazine.

The company will also unveil a unit at about the same time in a wealthy area of Athens, where de la Renta has teamed with local retailer Haris Tsimmoyanis, who owns Studio stores.

Construction of a Moscow store has been delayed but is expected to be finished in November, the designer said.

“The location is a landmark building — a two-story 18th century house, so it’s difficult to get permits,” he said. “The facade cannot be changed, but the interior will look like all our stores.”

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