The big retrospective of Oscar de Renta's career and life opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on Sunday, but his many Texas fans and supporters aren't waiting until then to start paying tribute to the legendary designer.
Museum patrons got a first look at the exhibition, The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta, at a preview dinner on Wednesday night and on Thursday, the Houston fashion faithful gathered in the Caroline Wiess Law Building for a luncheon and fashion show featuring the Oscar de la Renta resort 2018 collection from the label's designers, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia.
The design duo greeted guests, many of whom are longtime supporters of the brand, and helped them select looks at a pop-up shop in the museum set up by Tootsies, which organized the runway show. Also on hand was a large contingent from New York, including Oscar de la Renta CEO Alex Bolen and his wife (and de la Renta's stepdaughter) Eliza Bolen. De la Renta's widow, Annette de la Renta, is also flying from New York to attend the opening of the exhibition on Sunday and the Museum Grand Gala Ball Friday night.
Many of the luncheon guests, including Cherie Flores, Lynn Wyatt, Yvonne Cormier, Hallie Vanderhider, Nancy Kinder, Diane Lokey Farb, Phoebe Tudor, and Meg Goodman, sported Oscar de la Renta designs for the occasion. Wyatt, in a vintage de la Renta brown tweed suit and pumps, couldn't recall the year she bought the ensemble, "but I'm just glad I can still get into it," she said with a laugh.
Goodman wore a to-die-for de la Renta gold brocade jacket, which she said has "dressed up" as wedding attire or "dressed down" with jeans while Flores, who with her husband Jim underwrote the luncheon, combined an ivory dress with a black lace bolero jacket and Spanish flamenco hat. "It's new Oscar and old Oscar mixed together," Flores said, "and it works."
Also seen in the crowd were Sue and Lester Smith, Joan Schnitzer Levy, Elyse Lanier, Laura Arnold, Beth Robertson, Bobbie Nau, Courtney Lanier Sarofim, Martha Long, Aliyya Stude, Joanne King Herring, Ceron, Tootsies creative director Fady Armanious, Tootsies senior buyer for American and European collections Penne Weidig, and Allison Sarofim, who flew in from New York for the occasion. The crystal-studded strapless gown that de la Renta created for Sarofim to wear to the Met Costume Institute Gala is a focal point in the last room of the Houston exhibit.
A number of guests stopped by the head table to praise André Leon Talley, who curated the de la Renta retrospective at the MFAH and has been in Houston for the last two weeks to make sure all of the details for the opening are just right. Talley believes the legacy of de la Renta, who died in 2014, endures because "his clothes are so full of joy."
"It's wonderful because you see these clothes and you are wooed by the dazzle, the beauty, the quietude, the supreme elegance. There's elegance in the clothes; it's not just all flash, flash," Talley said. "It's quite refined. It endures because of the refinement, and the quality, and the spirit of Oscar."
Indeed, as one of the first major social events since Harvey wreaked havoc on Houston, the de la Renta exhibit and related activities seems to have lifted spirits as the luncheon and fashion show seemed to be an especially joyous and festive affair.
"Hopefully it's an opportunity for us to bring some fun to Houston," Bolen said. "Houston could use some fun."
The Oscar de la Renta resort 2018 collection, which was the focal point of the fashion show, was playful as designers Kim and Garcia featured a series of dresses, jackets, and skirts embroidered with monkeys (one holding a martini), palm print dresses, and a blazer the color of a mandarin orange. Evening wear — always a de la Renta strong point — ranged from an ivory column gown with black crystal embroidered halter detail to tea-length dresses dappled with fern embroidery.
The duo had worked for de la Renta for a number of years before leaving the company to strike out on their own with a successful line called Monse, so returning to the company was like coming home.
"Working there for a long time, he was like a father to us," Kim said about de la Renta. "It's a little different than other jobs, so it's very natural to us to make sure it looks like it's a (de la Renta) collection with our twist."
And they continue to find inspiration from de la Renta, as exemplified by the MFAH exhibition. "We think he would have liked to have the best of his work represented throughout the years, curated by a really good friend of his, André Leon Talley, so I think his legacy is in good hands," Garcia said.