Oscar de la Renta Fashion Exhibit at MFA Houston

“I don’t really know how to do casual clothes” – Oscar de la Renta

Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta dressed a diverse array of famous women. Beyonce, Laura Bush, Penelope Cruz, Taylor Swift and Amal Clooney all wore his creations.

The dresses worn by each of those women and many more are on display at The Museum of Fine Arts Houston in the exhibit “The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta” through March 18, 2018. Nearly 70 ensembles are on display.

There are dresses on display that were famously worn on the red carpet by the stars, in addition to those worn by Texas socialites. The exhibit also offers some insights into de la Renta’s design inspirations. Former Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley narrates the entertaining audio guide tour companion.

“Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is more about being yourself.”

For me, the first room of the exhibition and its focus on Spain was the most striking visually, and in terms of understanding de la Renta’s entry into the world of fashion.

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He was born in the Dominican Republic in 1932. However, the country of Spain was his earliest style muse. As a young man, he moved to Madrid in 1951 to study painting.  It was also in Madrid where he first became a fashion illustrator for the couture house of Cristobal Balenziaga in 1957.

“What I saw in Spain colored the way I have looked at clothes ever since.”

The dresses in the first room show just how much the style of flamenco dresses, bullfighting dress and other Spanish festivities and traditions informed his development as a designer.

The long ruffled dresses, vibrant red colors, and flower accents show the inspiration of the dresses worn by flamenco dancers. Not every piece is a dress — the red ruffled skirt below, for example. Talley said the room conveys a certain mood: “You feel like dancing.”

Beyonce, a Houston native, wore the romantic red gown with cascading ruffles below on the cover of Vogue magazine in 2013. The carnation red dress was constructed with organza and taffeta, and festooned with embroidered ruffles. DSC02589

Some of the mannequins wear dresses paired with black lace mantilla head covering veils, a touch inspired by religious Catholic attire worn by women in Spain.

 “Any girl from any walk of life dreams of that special dress, and I try to make that dream a reality for her.”

De la Renta shared the thoughts above with Vogue magazine as lawyer Amal (Alamuddin) Clooney was fitted for her wedding dress before marrying actor George Clooney in 2014.

The magazine published an article about her final dress fitting with the designer before the wedding. Amal told the magazine that she wanted a “romantic and elegant” wedding and that “I can’t imagine anyone more able than Oscar to capture this mood in a dress.”

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Amal’s cream-colored dress is constructed with ivory tulle and 14 yards of Chantilly lace, with a bodice hand-embroidered with crystals and beading.

A second wedding dress was also on display that de la Renta designed for his stepdaughter’s wedding in 1998.

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“A garden is probably the most spiritual and pure of joys.”

Gardens and flowers were clearly another source of fashion inspiration for de la Renta.

Indeed, de la Renta maintained a lush garden at his beachfront home in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Indeed, he told the Architectural Digest that his garden became “a small jungle.” He grew orchards, vines, jasmine, and many other plants. “I love symmetry in the garden,” de la Renta said. “But you have to have a mixture. You need to contain things in a certain matter, and then other areas you can just let go.”

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Flowers and leaves are embroidered into the dresses below, showing this source of inspiration.

“I design clothes for women to wear. I am not interested in shock tactics. I just want to make beautiful clothes.”

The dresses worn by a number of other famous women are exhibited. Former first lady Laura Bush wore the gold cardigan jacket and sequined skirt with a bright blue bow to a state dinner in 2002 for Poland’s president and to other events.

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Spanish actress Penelope Cruz wore the black dress below on the red carpet at the Met Gala in 2011 (de la Renta escorted her).

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Singer Taylor Swift wore the pink silk organza dress with the stunning bow on the back to the 2014 Met Gala.

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Some of his dresses emphasized extravagant gold embellishments. I particularly liked the gold brocade dress and headpiece below that reminded me almost of a costume. Imperial Russia was one of de la Renta’s inspirations.

The ornate gold details on the sleeves and in the gold top on the dresses below caught my eye. The blue velvet dress was owned by Baroness Sandra di Portanova and was donated to the museum after she passed away in 2000.

The dress with the puffy striped sleeves and orange gold full skirt below seemed particularly bold.

He also took on different cultural themes, with a sort of Russian influence portrayed below, with bulky coats and fur trim. Influences from the Middle East and Far East are also shown in pieces on display.

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The orange dresses below give off more of a throwback 1970s vibe. The wool paisley coat with a sable fur collar below belonged to Vogue editor Anna Winter, and dates to the 1997-98 collection.

“There is no sound more feminine than a woman in a taffeta dress.”

The classic black taffeta gown below was stunning. Houston philanthropist and socialite Lynn Wyatt, who was instrumental in bringing the de la Renta exhibit to Houston, wore the black gown below in Harper’s Bazaar magazine in 2011.

The ball gown below with sparking accents appeared on a rotating platform. Allison Sarofim wore the glittering gown to the Met Gala in 2004.

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Other pieces took on a softer and more ethereal and flowing look.

“Walk like you have three men walking behind you.”

One detail that stood out to me were the huge bows that de la Renta attached to the back of some of his dresses. He was clearly a man who thought of topping off any exquisite fashion design with a grand finale of sorts for his audience to admire!

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