Oscar de la Renta has lived the Latin American dream.
With roots on a tiny Third World island in the Thirties, he has built a multinational brand with an estimated $100 million in annual apparel retail sales and another $650 million in licensed products. His label has grown to become one of the world's best-known in fashion, consistently placing in the WWD100 annual consumer survey of most recognized brands. And he has won the hearts — and business — of many prominent society figures as he glides gracefully through that rarefied lifestyle.
De la Renta was born July 22, 1932, in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. He left there at age 18 to study painting at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid.
While living in Spain, he became interested in design and began sketching for leading Spanish fashion houses, which soon led to an apprenticeship with Spain's most renowned couturier, Cristobal Balenciaga. Later, de la Renta left Spain to join Antonio Castillo as a couture assistant at the house of Lanvin in Paris.
Meanwhile, an ocean away, Ben Shaw had become a legendary Garment District entrepreneur and power broker. Shaw was nicknamed "Mr. Seventh Avenue," gaining his reputation by helping to launch the careers and pull the purse strings for designers such as Donald Brooks, Norman Norell, Stephen Burrows, Dominic Rompollo, Giorgio di Sant'Angelo and Halston. In the Fifties, Shaw was running the designer dress house Jane Derby, and it was there that fashion history would be made.
Ben's son, Jerry Shaw, began working at Derby in 1956, seven years before de la Renta would make his way to the U.S., to design the made-to-measure collection for Elizabeth Arden.
"My father was a pioneer in the designer field," Shaw recalled in a WWD interview in 1994. "He had, among other attributes, a great ability for spotting talent and promoting talent. He felt that, at some point, young, talented designers really had to be brought to the front. Their names could be put on labels, but you had to get it past the stores.
"We got to the point where business went to a certain level and we couldn't get it past that, and that's when Oscar came into the picture."
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"