Remembering Oscar de la Renta: SF Style Mavens Share Their Memories

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Oscar de la Renta Runway 2
Runway at 2014 Saks Fifth Avenue and the League to Save Lake Tahoe Fashion Show and Luncheon

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer Photography

It had become known as “The Oscar Show,” Saks Fifth Avenue’s and the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s annual luncheon and fashion show with iconic fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, who presented his Collection under sun-drenched skies in a spectacular Lake Tahoe setting. Deemed the highlight of Tahoe’s summer season, the show will go on Aug. 1, 2015, when a special tribute will be paid to the couturier, who lost his graceful battle to cancer on Oct. 20. Haute Living asked several Bay Area style mavens to share their thoughts on the gifted man who created frocks for fashionistas worldwide. Here’s what they told us:


Komal Shah

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Komal Shah and Oscar de la Renta at 2014 Saks Fifth Avenue and the League to Save Lake Tahoe Fashion Show and Luncheon.

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer Photography

“For me, Oscar has been the most amazing designer of all times. I loved his vibrant, happy, playful and stunning creations. His designs have a quintessential grace and elegance to them. He was also very prolific in catering to such a diverse group of women so fluidly! As a person, he was really wonderful — he always had a smile on his face, and a twinkle in his eyes and, almost always, a joke or a compliment to tell. He had the knack of making everyone feel special and his joie de vivre was contagious. I remember him proudly showing me snippets of his forthcoming collection in his atelier a few years ago and being just stunned with his creative genius. We also talked about India from time to time — he liked India and had many stories to tell about his trips. His loss is deeply felt by a lot of people in San Francisco, and I will miss him very much.” — Komal Shah

Jean Larette

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Jean Larette, Oscar de la Renta and Lauren Howard

Photo Credit: Courtesy Jean Larette

“Oscar de la Renta was a man of enormous talent and generosity. Every summer for the last decade I have enjoyed attending his fashion show on the lake at Tahoe. His vibrant colors, effervescent fabrics and the sexy assuredness of his designs all converge in his celebration of the strong, confident woman. The day would begin the moment Oscar would arrive to the dock in a classic speedboat. He would greet everyone with his approachable charm, humor and good taste. Backstage after the show he would advise his many fans and admirers with an elegant enthusiasm. I wear his clothes, his shoes, his jewelry. I have his book. I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak on panels celebrating not only fashion design but his move into interior design. I have a number of residential projects where we are using the fabrics he designed from a formal living room in San Francisco to a mountain home in Jackson. He was a true master of design and will most certainly be revered and his influence felt for many, many years to come.” — Jean Larette

Joy Venturini Bianchi

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Oscar de la Renta’s sketch for Helpers

Photo Credit: Courtesy Helpers

“In 1995, Helpers, a charity that benefits the developmentally disabled, launched Mouse Couture. Designers from around the world honored the lives of our special people by creating Haute Couture fashions and sketches for two-inch faux mice. As soon as we asked Mr. de la Renta, he said, “Yes….of course, immediately.” Three years later, there was a supper honoring Mr. de la Renta at Neiman Marcus. When he saw me, he immediately commented, ‘You are the Mouse Lady! Helpers portrayal of the Mouse in the Red Gown was so eloquent.’ ” — Joy Venturini Bianchi

Karen Caldwell

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Karen Caldwell at 2013 Saks Fifth Avenue and the League to Save Lake Tahoe Fashion Show and Luncheon.

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer Photography

“I met him on about four different occasions and each time he always gave amazing eye contact and warm words. You almost felt like you were touched by the Pope of fashion. He was exactly what you dream of him being. He was elegant, handsome—like an old Hollywood movie star—and warm as can be. I am grateful of the many designs I have from him—and best of all he made me feel so pretty when I wore him, as I am sure countless other women felt as well. We will continue to feel this beauty whenever we slip on that gorgeous frock he made just for us, as he just loved women obviously. It feels like he truly made each piece just for us.” — Karen Caldwell

Brenda Zarate

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Brenda Zarate wore Oscar de la Renta to Opera Ball 2013.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Brenda Zarate

“Oscar de la Renta was the master of  elegance, sophistication and individuality. There has never been a man that understood women better than him.” —  Brenda Zarate

“Those beautiful summer afternoons at Lake Tahoe will forever be etched in my mind. Oscar de la Renta was a prince among men. So gallant, charming and kind. There will never be another like him.” – Karen Kubin

“It was such a highlight of the season. He was such a class act. There wasn’t anything better than seeing his beautiful pieces on the runway in Tahoe, one of the most beautiful sites in the world.” — Rosemary Baker

“He made women sophisticated, romantic and chic. He really saw the inside of a woman.  Whatever he put on them, it made them look so sophisticated and chic. Whatever you put on was timeless. Look what happened at Opera Ball. Everyone was wearing Oscar. We had 15 gowns.” — J. Riccardo Benavides

For the last three years, Benavides, a celebrated event designer who works his magic for San Francisco’s Opera Ball, helped style Saks Fifth Avenue and the League to Save Lake Tahoe Fashion Show and Luncheon, which also includes a live auction and exclusive backstage shopping opportunity. This marked the 15th year for de la Renta, whose appearances have helped raise $7.5 million.

The tradition itself dates back to 1969 when Bill Blass began showing his collection to a few loyal clients and friends. It’s blossomed into a much-anticipated fundraiser for the League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known by the slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue” and Tahoe’s oldest and largest nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.

Over the years, there have been many memorable de la Renta moments but one that epitomizes the designer’s generosity with the event was when he offered his own home in the Dominican Republic to be auctioned for one week. The bidding was so fierce that he decided to offer it twice with each week going for a whopping $60,000.

The League released the following statement:

The League’s staff, board and benefit committee are deeply saddened by the passing of Oscar de la Renta. We extend our deep condolences to his family, friends and loved ones.

The League was extremely fortunate to have Oscar as an ambassador and friend. His impact on our organization and Lake Tahoe over the last 15 years, which has resulted in millions of dollars to help protect Lake Tahoe, is quite remarkable and will have a lasting effect. Oscar’s recent appearance at the 2014 Fashion Show, despite his frail health, was a testament of his sincere affection and concern for Lake Tahoe. While most of the world will remember him as a fashion icon, those who knew him well will also recall him as a determined and exceedingly generous philanthropist. He will be dearly missed.

Our focus for the 2015 Fashion Show and Luncheon on Saturday, August 1, will be to pay tribute to our late friend and commemorate his legacy in the most fitting way.

The League’s Annual Fashion Show and Luncheon in partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue began in 1969 and has become a Tahoe institution. We plan to continue the tradition annually.



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