Sewing exhibits success

De la Renta’s dresses dazzle at the de Young.


Claire Devereux

A custom evening dress made for actress Sarah Jessica Parker is on display at the “Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective” exhibit at the de Young museum. The dress is made of white duchess satin with black silk velvet and the designer’s name embroidered across the back.

Claire Devereux and Claire Kosewic

While spending time at a museum is not most teenagers’ idea of fun, a new exhibit of sweeping ball gowns by world-renowned fashion designer and icon Oscar de la Renta that opened Saturday at the de Young is hardly a stuffy museum exhibit.

Curated by former editor-at-large for “Vogue” magazine André Leon Talley, the exhibition is organized into thematic sections based on cultural influences apparent in the clothes as well as other defining stylistic periods.

The show begins with Oscar de la Renta for Elizabeth Arden in which the eye is drawn to three flowy, “Dreamgirls”-esque dresses, opposite a collection displaying ready-to-wear styles he created for Arden during the 1960s.

“I believe that my sole purpose as a designer is to make something that a woman would want to wear,” de la Renta said in a 1972 interview. De la Renta said he judged whether a piece was a success or not by asking, “Would my wife wear this?”
The second room of the exhibit is a juxtaposition of early daywear pieces that bring to mind the style of the young Jackie Kennedy displayed beside dramatic evening ensembles in golds, rich browns, and other neutrals which show off the spectacular details of each dress.

From the day and evening wear section, the show becomes categorized by the cultural influences apparent in the designs, from Spain to Asia and Russia.
Stepping out of the red gallery housing the culturally-inspired ensembles and into the garden inspiration room is like taking a breath of cool air. Everything from the lighter colored clothes to the movie-sized screen playing footage of the garden on the de la Renta’s’ Connecticut estate effuses spring and freshness.

It is in the garden inspiration room where visitors encounter one of the most beautiful pieces of the exhibit, a 2006 blue and white chiné silk taffeta gown with a scooped neckline, three-quarter length sleeves and ruffled flounces at the hem and cuffs, worn by Kirsten Dunst in “Vogue’s” September 2016 issue.
After walking through a re-creation of a famous “Vogue” photoshoot by de la Renta in 2010, visitors find themselves in a room full of mirrors that give 360-degree views of de la Renta’s most recent work, including pieces worn by stars such as pop singer Taylor Swift and “Vogue”
editor Anna Wintour.

Through his work, de la Renta shows that fashion is a way in which people express themselves in any setting, by dressing to impress. He combined the natural strength and power of a woman with head-turning seamless style, grace and elegance that turns heads.

Exhibit pieces are on loan from the Oscar de la Renta archives in New York City, other museums and personal collections. It would be a shame to miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience of de la Renta’s genius, on display only at the de Young.

“Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective” is open to the public through May 30 in the Herbst Exhibition Galleries. Admission to the exhibit is by timed ticket every 15 minutes, and includes general admission. Tickets are $15 for youth (ages 6-17) and students with ID, and $30 for adults, 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. The de Young is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park directly across from the California Academy of Sciences.