The Oscar de la Renta fashion exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco has one unusual element: perhaps half of the clothes on display came from the collections of contemporary women. A good portion of these were red carpet dresses worn by celebrities, like Taylor Swift and Rihanna. When I visited, that room was the most crowded.
However, there were also a significant number of clothes from the closets of important socialites, First Ladies, and fashion leaders, all wealthy women of a certain age. These included a stunning fur collared coat owned by Anna Wintour, a sequined and embroidered ensemble for San Francisco socialite Ann Getty, and many dresses made for de la Renta’s wife, Annette. Some of my favorites were designed for First Lady Laura Bush, including her subtly embroidered cashmere coat worn on inauguration day, 2005.
The first room included some day looks, but the main focus of the exhibit was elaborate evening wear. The fabrics were sumptuous—hammered silks, brocades, velvet, lace. On top of this elegant foundation often came piles of of embellishment, including elaborate beading, embroidery, feathers, and fur. For de la Renta, elegance is obviously not refusal. This is a different kind of “power dressing” designed to broadcast wealth and social status at a glance.
Was there anything at the show I might have worn? Even the “haute hippie” caftans from the 1960s were too elaborate for my Plain Jane style. I wanted to remove the bejeweled collars and gold trim and just revel in the fabric. But if you forced my hand, I would take the Central Asian inspired ikat coat above. I’d get rid of the pearls, make it shorter, and wear with something besides pale green silk pants. As you can see, I am not an Oscar de la Renta kind of woman. But I would take the fabric scraps from his workroom floor any day.