I don’t follow fashion at all, so it hadn’t occurred to me that the recent death of Oscar de la Renta would be much more than a footnote, but Virginia Postrel would disagree:
When fashion designer Oscar de la Renta died Monday, he left neatly resolved two issues that might have otherwise marred his legacy.
The first was the question of who would succeed him. Many a fashion house has been thrown into chaos by the death of its founder. But last week, Oscar de la Renta LLC, the privately held company headed by de la Renta’s stepson-in-law Alex Bolen, said it was appointing Peter Copping, the former artistic director of Nina Ricci, as its creative director. There will be no messy crisis this time.
The second was a matter of state. De la Renta had dressed every first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy — except Michelle Obama. To have the stylish first lady shun the dean of American fashion was tantamount to a public feud. Two weeks ago, the conflict ended when Mrs. Obama wore an Oscar de la Renta dress to a White House cocktail party filled with fashion insiders. Her appearance in the crisply tailored black cocktail dress embellished with silver and blue flowers — a quintessential de la Renta balance of precise lines with ornamentation and color — preserved the designer’s White House legacy.
The clean resolution of these two issues shortly before de la Renta’s passing befits the grace of his life’s work.
But a cultural question remains: Will the American fashion industry ever tolerate another de la Renta? His brand will continue, but the classic elegance for which he was known is as old-fashioned as it is beloved. It defies the prestige accorded to innovators who “move fashion forward” rather than simply creating fresh collections. Michelle Obama wouldn’t have won all those plaudits as a fashion leader if she’d worn his dresses and followed his rules. She would have merely been another tastefully attired Hillary Clinton or Laura Bush.