Q&A with legendary fashion icon André Leon Talley
The curator of the Mint’s exhibition The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta and star of the fashion world spoke to the Mint’s director of public relations and publications in 2018 just before the opening of the exhibition. Following is the article that published in the Winter 2018 INSPIRED member magazine.
By Leigh Dyer
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW YOU GOT TO KNOW OSCAR DE LA RENTA?
My first meeting with Oscar was in December 1975, when he and his first wife, the late Francoise de la Renta, invited me at the last minute to their table for two at the annual Met Costume Institute dinner. It was held in December in those days, and it was a very small, intimate society dinner and celebrity-filled. Diana Vreeland had spoken so highly of me to the de la Rentas that he simply made space for me at his already seated table.
WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF HIM?
My first impression and my lasting impression, was he was a great man of impeccability, elegance, well-groomed, and polite. He also had a wonderful charm and smile. His whole being simply exuded a natural nobility of goodness and sunshine, warmth, laughter, and generosity. All the real things that matter. I miss him every day and his second wife, Annette, was also a close friend of the first Mrs. de la Renta. They both love beauty and comfort, nothing over the top, as the late Bunny Mellon said, “nothing should be noticed.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY OF HIM?
I loved watching Oscar dance and sing. He was the best dancer and did the best merengue. He was so soigné, even dancing. And swimming, in his native Dominican Republic. He also had a voice that was as rich and warm as his heart. He was kind, but he also had a wicked sense of humor, loved telling the anecdotal historical narrative of French high society in fashion-for example he went to some of the famous Paris society balls. And I loved him telling the narrative of those glamorous women.
WHY DO YOU THINK HIS DESIGNS WERE SO SUCCESSFUL AT CONNECTING WITH THE PUBLIC AND POPULAR CULTURE?
His designs impact everyone, from the 8-year-old girl to the 80-year-old grand dame. I fondly remember a young girl being brought by her parents to de Young in San Francisco for the retrospective on Oscar, and she was so impressed by the pale pink tulle dress and hat and veil, inspired by Madame Bovary. It was actually a wedding dress in a Pierre Balmain collection in Paris, designed beautifully by Oscar. So romantic, so rich in romantic history. Oscar always wanted to make women beautiful; he didn’t care about being an artist, he wanted to make dresses that were worn and admired by the women who loved them. Embedded in every bow and every nuance of taffeta flourish, every flounce of velvet edged in sable and embroidery, was his sense of romance. The body of work from his beginnings at Lanvin Castillo to his early youth in Spain anchor him in the historical context of romantic and glamorous design. He loved so much to realize clothes that were exuberantly baroque in surface, yet weighted in elegant simplicity.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS HIS MOST IMPORTANT LEGACY IN THE FASHION WORLD?
There are three designers I think of who have left a lasting mark in the realm of modern fashion that is romantic: Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, and Yves Saint Laurent. All three of these titans of talent, I know or knew personally. In the hands of each, a dress, a coat, or a suit became a poem!
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH LONGTIME MINT SUPPORTER MARIANNA SHERIDAN?
I worked closely with Marianna and she was quiet, yet fiercely passionate about Oscar de la Renta. She loved the designer so much, she had a family home built in the Dominican Republic. I always looked forward to her e-mails with another glorious find. She frequently would seek my advice on if she should or should not acquire certain looks, but she was somehow drawn to the glorious pieces that always reflected the best of Oscar’s designs. Under her direction, the de la Renta archives became a wonderful resource, a literal goldmine of offerings in every category. We were friends, and I had a deep respect for her dedication and her work. She had a love of beauty, luxury, and elegance.
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING THAT VISITORS TO THE EXHIBITION WILL COME AWAY WITH?
I hope visitors wi11 take away a breathtaking sense of Oscar’s love of texture and fabric, color, and complex layerings of details of the world of couture conceits. Romantic ruffles and the glory of Spain’s culture in the arts, and flamenco, the bullring, and the idea of the warmth of the sun in Sevilla on a beautiful day is somehow in the very cut of the cloth. More than anything, he was a true romantic and loved life, and he showed that in his love of gardens, garden motifs, flowers.
THIS EXHIBITION HAS COINCIDED WITH THE PREMIERE OF YOUR NEW DOCUMENTARY, “THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE.”
I am proud the documentary opens at the same period this spring as the exhibit. Kate Novack, director, narrates brilliantly my humble beginnings in Durham, N.C. and how I soldiered through the “chiffon trenches” for decades to arrive at the heights of my career, landing at Vogue for nearly two decades. I am still aligned to Vogue as a contributing editor and consider Dame Anna Wintour a close friend. She has supported me throughout my career and I am blessed to have her [in my life]. The documentary received the Whistler prize last December at the Whistler Film Festival, as World Documentary.
It’s a great honor to curate this, my third exhibition since Oscar de la Renta died. I considered Oscar one of my close friends and I think of him every day as I do so many wonderful people who have passed away: Yves Saint Laurent, Diana Vreeland, Andy Warhol (who gave me my first job in fashion in 1975), and Azzedine Alaia. I am also proud of the books I published in collaboration with SCAD in Savannah, Georgia, published by Rizzoli, Little Black Dress and Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style.