Be My (Modern) Lady: An Interview with Oscar de la Renta

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An Interview with Oscar de la Renta
Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images

Ironically, who could possibly understand what it means to be a lady better than Oscar de la Renta? In over 50 years of designing fashion, he has dressed princesses, first ladies, and Hollywood stars alike, leaving not much territory untapped. He spent half a century inventing fantastic fare for the everyday woman, for the political wife, for the red carpet maven. In essence, he has figured out what women want and how to give it to them, and it would be no stretch of the imagination to surmise that he has had a hand in elevating the modern woman to the powerful status she enjoys today. In Oscar de la Renta’s magnificent clothes, the world is your oyster, the possibilities are endless, and the sky is the limit.

In a rare interview, the legendary designer shares his thoughts on the 21st century woman with Savoir Flair. Read on for his refreshing and studied perspective on the modern woman, his role as a designer, and style tips from the gentlest of gentlemen.

You’ve dedicated your life’s work to making women look good and feel good. Is this something you wanted to do from the start or a by-product of wanting to create garments?
I have always felt that my role as a designer is to make a woman feel her very best. If I have made a woman feel beautiful, that would be my greatest achievement.

What is your advice for women who want to look good and feel good?
Style, to me, is about being yourself. It is about being comfortable in your own skin.

Is there anything you particularly love about this generation of women?
The 21st century woman is unbelievable. We have to celebrate all that women have achieved in such a short period of time. This is the most exciting time to be dressing a woman; never before has a woman been so in control of her destiny.

Your collections are always heavily inspired by old-school glamour. Do you wish women still maintained that approach in day-to-day dressing?
My inspiration has always been the anonymous woman on the street, the woman with a busy, full life. I think about her needs and what she will want to wear.  My role as a designer has always been to design clothes that address a woman’s life and make her feel beautiful.

My role as a designer has always been to design clothes that address a woman’s life and make her feel beautiful.

What makes a woman a lady?
There is more to femininity than just wearing skirts and dresses alone. I like the idea of an eternal beauty – a woman whose style transcends what is popular today. That, to me, is ladylike.

Have you figured out what women want?
Women want to define their femininity through fashion. A woman knows that the power of femininity is very important.

The main character in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, said, “If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late? Nobody.” Do you think it’s okay for a woman to be fashionably late as long as she looks put together?
Rules were made to be broken.

In Oscar de la Renta’s world, what are the codes of being a modern lady?
At the heart of each collection is the idea of a modern lady. She is completely in control of her life and her destiny. This is a woman with an extraordinarily busy life and a woman who knows exactly what she wants.

Are there any words that you would want to bring back into everyday conversations?
Fantastic.

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