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The middle-aged docents in navy jackets at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas were atwitter.
“Aren’t they amazing?” one marveled.
The object of their fascination: 64 mannequins from the exhibit “Oscar de la Renta: Five Decades of Style.” The year-old Bush center has probably never had it so grand. Spotlighting lavish evening wear from 1967 to the present, plus a handful of day looks, the show is an impressive overview of de la Renta’s career.
“Mrs. [Laura] Bush came up with the idea of doing a show at the Bush Library and, of course, we embraced the idea,” the designer explained. “I dressed her all through the years she was in the White House, and she is an unbelievably lovely and wonderful lady, so I was very proud to help her in any way I could.”
The show is more than twice as big and substantially different from last year’s “Oscar de la Renta: American Icon,” the six-month display at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., which, de la Renta noted, attracted 250,000 visitors — more than the entire population of the capital city.
That may explain why this presidential library retrospective follows so closely on its heels. “Five Decades of Style” is up through Oct. 5.
Curated by Molly Sorkin and Jennifer Park, who have also done shows of the designer’s work at the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute in New York, the Bush exhibition begins with a video loop narrated by former first lady Bush, who says the designer “really likes women, and I think that shows in the clothes that he makes.”
The winter white day ensemble and bugle-beaded gray column that she wore for presidential inaugural festivities in 2005 open the show. It continues with a series of rooms arrayed with colorful and intensively embellished eveningwear worn by socialites and celebrities.
They include gowns of Texans Lynn Wyatt, Carolyn Farb and nine styles previously worn by Mercedes T. Bass, whose Fort Worth charitable foundation is the retrospective’s chief sponsor. A cluster of 14 styles worn by first ladies Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nancy Reagan anchor a center room.
“We look at how his style evolved and see these cornerstones of pieces in his career,” Sorkin explained.
The curator cited de la Renta’s skillful use of color, beading, embroidery, layering and multicultural styles as key in his aesthetic of refined glamour. Since the designer didn’t archive styles in the earlier years and they are hard to come by, a wall collage presents editorials from the Sixties and Seventies, the era when Vogue anointed him “The King of Evening.”