“He defined a standard…”

Kenneth Cole tweeted last night about the loss of Oscar de la Renta, “He defined a standard to which we can only aspire.”

Cole’s words could not be argued or made more apt by any wanna-be. (And for those of us who are in fashion design, in contrast…isn’t that all of us?)

He seemed to be the one who was “always there,” as I learned how to design and create gowns. To recall just a few of his personal influences:

A. He loved color. (I always advise against wearing “safe black.”)

B. He didn’t have an expected “look.” His bridals could be  meringue-like, billowing ball gowns or sleek, richly embellished trumpet styles. (Jenna Bush wore one of my all time favorites.)

Oscar de la Renta merenge like ballgown.
Oscar de la Renta meringue-like ballgown.
President Bush and Jenna  Bush Hager on her wedding day in 2008.
President Bush and Jenna Bush Hager on her wedding day in 2008.

C. He never looked like a disheveled bum (as do designers who wear no make up, don’t wash their hair, wear ratty clothes.) Quite the contrary, I’ve never seen him in less than a crisp white shirt, impeccable suit (top button always buttoned) and perfectly knotted Windsor tie.


D. He was unassuming, charismatic and appreciative.

E. He was not a “You look beautiful in everything” apple polisher salesman.

He called Michelle Obama out recently for wearing a sweater to meet Queen Elizabeth. (Long over-due.) Though he has dressed every First Lady since Jacqueline Kennedy, of both parties, Obama finally did… just last month. (What’s with that?)


“In fitted silk apricot dress, Jackie walks through crowds at Udaipur, where she was given a noisy reception.” She walks with the Maharaj of Mewar, left, during her visit in 1962.
Nancy Gown 2
Nancy Reagan’s 1985 inaugural gown.
Laura Gown
Laura Bush at President Bush’s second inauguration in 2005.
Hillary Gown
President Clinton and Hillary Clinton at the second inaugural ball in 1997.

I would love to share stories of “last time I was with him,” but there are none. Though I’ve met all the other most famous bridal designers, the closest encounters I’ve had were two sightings.

Several years ago, I was invited to the debut of his first full bridal collection. It was held in an embassy in NYC. Press was packing the place.

Typically at the end of a runway show, the designer takes the stage. Not Oscar. He declined that spotlight, preferring to “let the dresses speak for me.”  Upon departure, I was within 10 feet, as I saw him ducking into a back room before he was caught in the crowd.

Oscar Crowd

Another time, I was at a massive party at Radio City Music Hall and he was illuminated and surrounded by photographers for the short time he was there. Again, no handshake or introduction.

I have never been a copy cat designer, but I openly admit that my dress “Diamond” is a close imitation (except in price!) I made my skirt more A-Line and added lots of embroidery to the back panel when the train was removed. Oscar had a much better bow.

Oscar’s gown that inspired my “Diamond” gown.
"Diamond" designed by Michael Nolte.
“Diamond” designed by Michael Nolte.

His best quote: “I hope I am never remembered as a minimalist.”

The fashion world will sorely miss his authenticity and incredible balancing between dramatic flair and conservative restraint. There is no “replacing” his influence, only gratitude for his guidance.  He set the standard.