Monday, October 20, 2014

A Truly Golden Oscar Departs

What a shame that Nora Ephron isn't around to provide us with those wonderful, outrageous and oh, so right on comments about the fashion world. The sudden news of the death of fashion icon Oscar de la Renta just a day or so ago would have provided quite a bit of material for her uncanny ability to wrap it all up neatly and then tie a recipe around it.

Oscar de la Renta, as they've already noted, was probably the last remaining member of an exclusive group of extremely high profile designers who enjoyed the attention and the patronage of those who were old money or nouveau riche. If you wore de la Renta, you were noticed even if you happened to be little more than a hanger for an extraordinary garment.

I didn't know that the grande dame of fashion editorial, the late Diana Vreeland of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, had been his mentor. But with the training he had had at Balmain, Balencianga and Lanvin he had the right stuff and fortunately for the ladies who love to lunch, he didn't go into the family's insurance business. Who was in his coterie in fashion? The impeccible Bill Blass and Geoffrey Beene stand out. I suppose Vera Wang has taken over one spot that de la Renta rules, the wedding or party dress and, certainly, Ralph Lauren has locked up a bit of the Blass charm in his faux Americana styled fabrics.

I never worked in haute couture, but I did a stint in the rag business and can recall having lunch with a wonderful, dear friend, Warren Pickower, one day. We were really enjoying our lunch when a group of fashionably dressed women walked in, took over a huge table and began clucking as though it were a hen party. The center of attention was Vreeland about whom fashion fantasy stories have abounded for years. Hear the one about the red silk walls? Or was that Helen Gurley Brown? Well' there's also a septuagenarian talent agent in LA who commands similar furnishings in his office. It's part of the deal. Now, of course, Diana has been replaced by Anna Wintour who is in one of those "The Devil Wears Prada" positions where she can bring seismic success to anyone she chooses.

Warren and I were reckless and just kept laughing at our own jokes and didn't pay any of the usual homage to the ladies. We did get a look or two, but who cared? It was lunch.

Not only did de la Renta know what would appeal to women of a certain age or of a certain social status, he also knew that business necessitated a foray into ready-to-wear and he tuned up that pencil, too. I don't recall, however, that he ever got into designer sun glasses but maybe he did. I just don't follow that trend. You know the ones with the truly HUGE and therefore tacky logo on the side so that everyone will know you must have paid a fortune. Actually, if you are wearing them and you do have the money to buy them, you probably were given them just so you'd be a walking advertisement for them. What do you suppose is the intent of those goody bags they give to the celebs at major events?

That reminds me of a trip to Saks Fifth Avenue or Bergdorf's where I was looking at some item and I overheard a woman who was purchasing a suit. Truly lovely in a subtle shade, but with rather headlight type buttons with the designer's initials running down the front of the jacket. The woman, in some degree of suppressed anger, told the saleswoman, "I want this suit, but I want these buttons removed and replaced with something without someone else's initials on them." She wasn't about to pay a small fortune for the privilege of being a walking billboard. I think the only thing worse would be to buy a Chanel original and then put frankfurter shaped buttons on the front. Tacky wouldn't even come near it.

All of this harks back to the 60s when Jackie Kennedy was setting trends and the de la Renta imprint was about to become big business as he opened his own business in 1965. No pretense here. Just good fashion sense that complemented a woman's figure so that the garment became one with her. Masterful. There, didn't that sound like Nora?

Looking at the man himself, he dripped that suave style that men's fashion magazines try so hard to get in their male models. Impeccably tailored, I think he gave Blass a run for his money if they were to appear at the same dinner or cocktail party.  Absolute style.

So, we've passed from an age of elegance to fashion that is now called edgier and I think that in so doing we've lost something. But that's just my opinion.

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