By  on May 10, 2006

NEW YORK — Unanimity does not come easily in the fashion world — except, perhaps, when Oscar de la Renta is involved.

The designer's generosity of spirit was something all guests could agree upon Monday night at the annual benefit for Parsons The New School for Design, which honored de la Renta.

Former president Bill Clinton, stepping in for his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.), who was detained by business in Washington, said he "tried to dress up for Oscar" and lauded his "great friend."

Among those who turned out to praise de la Renta at Pier 60 were Diane von Furstenberg, Vera Wang, Terry Lundgren, Gilbert Harrison, Anna Wintour, Kenneth Cole, Dana Buchman, Stan Herman, Lavelle Olexa, Charles Nolan and Iris Apfel, as well as the designer's family members.

The New School's president, former Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat, welcomed Clinton by referring to him as "the president's husband," perhaps a bit of wishful partisan thinking, to laughter from the crowd as he corrected himself.

Clinton, who has stayed at the designer's Dominican Republic home several times with his wife, said his favorite story about de la Renta is "how he became a designer."

He spoke of de la Renta's teenage aspiration to become an artist. "He could have been a great one, I think," the former president said. "But I'm sure many of you are glad that he didn't."

Recounting the designer's career, Clinton recalled de la Renta's days at Balenciaga and the house of Lanvin, and how he launched his business in 1965. On a personal note, Clinton mentioned visiting the school in the Dominican Republic that de la Renta has established. He spoke of their "endless long talks that have nothing to do with anything that brought you here tonight," and also described the designer as "a great friend" and "the most competitive card player" he has ever played with.

The guest of honor joked that he was wary of giving free advice to Parsons students "since some of you might soon be my competition." In fact, one of his interns, Michelle Burrus, was among the students whose collections were shown during a post-dinner fashion show.

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