October 21, 2014 / 3:55 PM / 3 years ago

Oscar de la Renta remembered for his elegant designs, generosity

4 Min Read

Designer Oscar De La Renta smiles with model Karlie Kloss (L) and another model after presenting his Autumn/Winter 2013 collection during New York Fashion Week in this February 12, 2013 file photo.Lucas Jackson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oscar de la Renta, the legendary fashion designer who dressed first ladies and Hollywood stars during a career that spanned five decades, was remembered on Tuesday for his exquisite style, generous heart and tireless philanthropy.

Tributes poured in for the tall, Dominican-born designer who died late on Monday at the age of 82, surrounded by family at his Connecticut home after a battle with cancer.

"He died exactly as he wished: with tremendous grace, great dignity and very much on his own terms," his family said on his website. "We are working on arrangements to celebrate his life."

Known for his classic, feminine creations, de la Renta dressed first ladies, Republican and Democratic, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton, who wore a plum-colored de la Renta gown to her daughter's wedding in 2010.

"His singular talent and exquisite taste elevated American fashion, and his warmth and friendship will be missed by our family and all whose lives he touched in his extraordinary journey," Bill and Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

One of his most recent designs was the lace, off-the-shoulder wedding gown he created for human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin for her September wedding to actor George Clooney in Venice, Italy.

Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine and a close friend, said he was equally happy dining with the rich and famous as he was playing dominoes with his staff.

"His designs reflected his extraordinary personality - optimistic, fun, sunny, romantic," she said on Vogue's website.

Wintour added that he had told her he had an amazing life and was not afraid.

"This strength must have been with him in the hospital last week when he made the decision to turn off treatment; it was not the quality of life he wanted," she said.

Fashion designers and Hollywood stars expressed their sympathy.

"We lost a fashion icon," said Marc Jacobs, while Vera Wang tweeted: "Oscar created a whole world of luxury, style and elegance all his own."

Actress Tina Fey described de la Renta as a genius. "You know, we've lost a brilliant artist and an elegant and lovely, kind human being and his dresses and his work will live on forever, I think," she told Reuters.

Nancy Reagan praised him as a fashion legend.

"I admired him greatly as a kind, gracious individual with a generous spirit who brought beauty and elegance to everything he touched," she said in a statement. 

De la Renta was born to a prominent family in the Dominican Republic and studied art in Spain. He began his fashion career working alongside Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga.

His designs, which included full and pencil skirts paired with fitted jackets, dresses in pastel colors and floral prints and elaborate evening gowns, exuded sophistication and elegance.

In 2012, de la Renta won The Fashion Institute of Technology Couture Council Award for Artistry and took aim at celebrities, sports stars and actresses who are delving into fashion design, for their lack of formal training.

"I've been at it for 45 years, and I'm still learning my craft on a daily basis," he said after winning the award.

Earlier this month, de la Renta appointed Nina Ricci's artistic director, Peter Copping, as creative director of his company, which has $140 million in estimated annual revenue. It is a new position that he was to take up in early November.

Along with his creative talents, de la Renta was renowned for his generosity.

"His legacy of philanthropy extended from children in his home country who now have access to education and healthcare, to some of New York’s finest artists whose creativity has been sustained through his support," the Clintons said.

Additional reporting by Reuters Television in Los Angeles; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Jonathan Oatis

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