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WASHINGTON — Oscar de la Renta brought his trademark charisma to a local Catholic university last week, received its Designer of the Year Award and left fashion students with a lot to think about in his wake — as well as a promise to donate his extra fabrics.
“I never went to fashion school,” said de la Renta, as he began critiquing eight Marymount University senior portfolios.
However, de la Renta, who studied art instead, did get invaluable experience and a foot in the door drawing sketches for Cristóbal Balenciaga as a student in Spain. It was there he learned the fundamentals of designing and a valuable lesson that de la Renta said he still acknowledges today — designers are only as good as their last collections.
“When I was starting, I could cheat a lot by doing beautiful sketches and I could hide how little I knew,” said de la Renta, stressing his preference for black-and-white drawings and the necessity to include the most basic of details, such as dart placement.
De la Renta was a big catch for Marymount, which has bestowed its Designer of the Year Award since 1990 when Carolina Herrera was the recipient. Although it has less than 3,000 students, the Arlington, Va., school continues to build its reputation through graduates who land on Seventh Avenue. This summer, Marymount will have two interns in de la Renta’s atelier.
However, Marymount’s profile in the industry gets a huge boost from Rose Marie Bravo, chief executive of Burberry. Bravo is a former Marymount trustee and all-around friend to the school, which was founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary order of nuns.
At the event, about 625 students, faculty and de la Renta fans, twice the usual draw, crowded into the gymnasium for the one-hour student fashion show. The designer and Bravo were seated in the front row.
Bravo told the audience about meeting de la Renta early in her career at R.H. Macy & Co. when the designer was launching one of his fragrances. “I was always struck [by] how gracious and kind he was,” Bravo said.
After the show, de la Renta praised the students for the quality of their work, but urged them to not get carried away with their designs.
This story first appeared in the May 6, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“What should be important is the consumer,” he said. “It’s only when a woman wears a dress that it becomes fashion.”
He also expressed concern that high-end fabrics used to learn proper draping are often too expensive for students to buy. Since he normally has leftover fabric at the end of a season, de la Renta said he planned to donate it.