The first retrospective showing of iconic designer Oscar de la Renta is now on view at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The visually stunning exhibit is curated by André Leon Talley, former editor-at-large for Vogue magazine and lifelong friend of de la Renta. Talley expertly separates the gowns into thematic sections, building a story of cultural history and appreciation via exquisite skilled artisanship.
We get a rare glimpse of how these frocks came into creation through the backdrop of various influences. In a garden setting, the dress is more than an adornment, it is a conversation with nature. Details, volume, and drape all pull inspiration from the air and sky, while color, texture, and surface speak to the bounty of the earth.
The collection is sprinkled with ethnic influences from every part of the globe. Designers have long blurred intercultural barriers through fashion, and Oscar de la Renta was no exception. A long, poufy, hot pink gown embroidered with rich gold thread can easily find its roots in Indian culture. Sometimes designers make an exact copy as we have seen with the Punjabi Suit or salwar kameez. Yet, de la Renta chose to reimagine it in a western context which brought the common over to the side of couture in only a way that he could. Elements of color, pattern, and design are evocative of exotic faraway lands captured for the wearer of the dress.
The fantasy element within the Oscar de la Renta exhibit is strong. The showcase of gala gowns worn by famous celebrities creates an aspirational quality. Gowns worn to the Met Gala by Sarah Jessica Parker and Taylor Swift, to name a few, leave us with an image of unparalleled beauty, creativity, and high fashion. To own an Oscar de la Renta gown is to attain the unattainable. It is to finally make the fantasy a reality.