Farewell to one of Fashion’s Favorite Hosts (and Best Dancers) Oscar de la Renta

Hal Rubenstein celebrates the happy times friends and family shared with the designer.

With Audrey Hepburn, 1988
Audrey Hepburn and Oscar de la Renta (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
With Jennifer Lopez
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 10: Singer Jennifer Lopez and designer Oscar De La Renta attend the Oscar De La Renta Spring 2009 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on September 10, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images )
Oscar de la Renta, 2008
MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 20: Designer Oscar de la Renta attends Telva Fashion Awards 2008 photocall at Palace Hotel on October 20, 2008 in Madrid, Spain (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
With Barbara Walters
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 12: Designer Oscar de la Renta and Barbara Walters attend the Diane Von Furstenberg Fall 2012 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Theatre at Lincoln Center on February 12, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week)
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Anna Wintour, DVF, Oscar de la Renta, Sarah Jessica Parker
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: (L-R) Anna Wintour, Diane Von Furstenberg, Designer Oscar de la Renta and actress Sarah Jessica Parker attend the 2012 Couture Council for the Museum at FIT Award for Artistry of Fashion to Oscar de la Renta at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on September 5, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
With Anna Wintour
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 24: Designer Oscar de la Renta (L) and Anna Wintour attend Giorgio Armani One Night Only NYC at SuperPier on October 24, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Giorgio Armani)
Runway
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Designer Oscar de la Renta (C) and model Karlie Kloss (L) walk the runway at the Oscar De La Renta fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2015 on September 9, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
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Runway
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11: Designer Oscar De La Renta (L) and Model Karlie Kloss (C) pose on the runway at the Oscar De La Renta fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2014 on February 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Taylor Swift, Met Ball, 2014
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 05: Musician Taylor Swift attends the "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
With Sarah Jessica Parker, 2004
NEW YORK - JUNE 9: Designer Oscar de La Renta poses with presenter/actress Sarah Jessica Parker (wearing Oscar De La Renta) in the pressroom at the 32nd Annual Fragrance Foundation's "FiFi" Awards on June 9, 2004 at the Hammerstein Ballroom, in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

If we are all lucky enough to have a next life, Oscar de la Renta should come back as the Latin Michael Bublé, breaking hearts while crooning tunes of blissful love and requited passion in his caramel smooth baritone that possessed just the right hint of growl. 

Whenever Oscar sang, which was as often as he could, that handsome face would glow like a fresh sunburn, his hips would involuntarily propel his lithe frame into samba, and you forgot all about his gifts as a couturier and craftsman.  All you saw and heard was a master seducer doing his bewitching best.

It’s obvious to anyone who ever met him that de la Renta was the last gentleman: a perfect host, a dashing dresser, an irresistible charmer. It’s obvious to anyone who ever witnessed one of his fashion shows that he had only one goal during his entire career. “When I see a woman, I don’t think about her politics,” he told me. “I don’t care about her age. All I know is that she wants to look beautiful. It’s the one thing about women that never changes. And making beautiful clothes is the only job I ever wanted to have.”

But the reason why those lucky enough to have known him will miss him so desperately, is that de la Renta was that rare creature—a man fulfilled. Yes, he had tiffs with some members of the press about coverage and collections, but here was someone who knew he was blessed with the gift of talent, a marvelous family, close friends, privilege and access, and he never took any of it for granted.

He was startlingly humble in private, always deflecting praise by asking what you were doing. He thought his wife hung the moon. The names of his son and stepdaughters sprinkled even casual conversation. He was peacock proud of his son-in-law. Oh yes, he loved his ladies. Barbara, Brooke, Bette, Hilary, Sarah Jessica. But he would also walk though his garden daily in Punta Cana and say hi to every gardener by name. If you were under his roof, his respect and a heartfelt hug were a given. 

And if you were a guest under his roof, you never lifted a finger—that is, until after dinner when even if you couldn’t carry a tune, you were going to sing and dance. No one was sitting it out. There was no avoiding the microphone or an instrument even if it was scruffing a lowly marimba. When he realized I could do most every Latin dance (if you were a kid growing up in a Jewish household in New York, knowing to cha cha was as required as Little League), I was directed to give meringue lessons to the uninitiated at dinner. And then I sang back up while he crooned Cole Porter.

Yes, Oscar filled red carpets with beauty. But he filled his world with a joy of living that would have made him immortal if he’d only known how to bottle it. If I come back in the next life as well, I will be the first one in line to buy his album.   

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