A Conversation with Oscar de la Renta at the 92Y

Oscar de la Renta and Fern Mallis
Oscar de lar Renta and Fern Mallis
Photo Credit: Joyce Culver for 92Y

At 80 years old. Oscar de la Renta still has it. Dominican charm, inspirational words of wisdom and a radiant smile that seamlessly delivers the stories and anecdotes of his life. His conversation with Fern Mallis at the 92Y started from the beginning and set the stage for his path to becoming a fashion icon.

Always hungry to learn, he never thought of himself as a designer, but as “a doodler” he joked. Without going to fashion school, his first job was at Balenciaga in Spain “picking up pins from the floor” but also seeing how the clothes were made. His track included tenure at Lanvin and Balmain and after realizing an opportunity in ready-to-wear, he went to Elizabeth Arden after Diana Vreeland suggested he take a position there so he could build his name.

He spoke about other important moments like Versailles, a historic turn for American fashion. He was candid on why they beat the French: black models. It was something the French had not seen.

On current news, he told the audience how he believed that John Galliano needed a second chance and the missed opportunity for American fashion when Michelle Obama wears designers from other countries to important functions.

The rich content came from the messages he gave to the crowd. For emerging designers, his advice was “work hard, believe in yourself, it’s not the publicity, it’s woman that buys your clothes.” Although he mentioned he would like to dress every woman in the room, his constant desire to learn comes from the fact that over the years his woman has changed, which is something he needs to understand.

And, what he did say with pride is that, “New York is no doubt the capital of fashion.”

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