Fashion Designer Oscar de la Renta Dead at 82

Oscar de la Renta Models - H 2014
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Oscar de la Renta Models - H 2014

He dressed some of the most famous women in the world and recently designed Amal Clooney's wedding dress

Oscar de la Renta, the legendary Dominican-American fashion designer, died at age 82 on Monday night, his family confirmed in a hand-written statement posted on the designer's website Tuesday morning. De la Renta had been battling cancer. 

The designer died Monday evening at his Connecticut home, surrounded by family, friends and "more than a few dogs," according to the statement, signed by his stepdaughter Eliza Reed Bolen and her husband, Alex Bolen.

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"He died exactly as he lived: with tremendous grace, great dignity and very much on his own terms," the statement continued. "While our hearts are broken by the idea of life without Oscar, he is still very much with us."

His work became the preferred wear for such first ladies as Nancy ReaganHillary Clinton and Laura Bush, and he designed the dress worn by Amal Alamuddin at her wedding in September to George ClooneyMovie stars such as Jessica ChastainPenelope Cruz and Kristen Stewart also were great fans of the designer. 

De la Renta was born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican mother and a Puerto Rican father. At 18, he moved to Spain to study painting but then switched over to fashion, landing an apprenticeship with Spain’s most renowned couturier, Cristobal Balenciaga.

“Soon I found that I was more interested in fashion design than I was in continuing as an illustrator,” he once told the Toronto Star. “I think that any experience you have; anything you pay attention to is part of what I call the ‘baggage’ you carry with you all your life. My early involvement with painting, even the fact that I come from a tropical country, are part of who and what I am today.”

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He then moved on to Lanvin-Castillo in Paris, where he worked as an assistant to Antonio del Castillo, and then to Elizabeth Arden in New York. He launched his own ready-to-wear label in 1965.

The young de la Renta, as a designer in his own right, first came to public prominence after designing a dress for Jackie Kennedy.

By 1997, de la Renta’s fashion business reportedly was worth $500 million. Later, he expanded into home furnishings, fragrances and other lifestyle products.

The Bolens, who both work as executives at de la Renta's company, said that the late designer's spirit and values will continue to guide their work.

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"Oscar's hard work, his intelligence and his love of life are at the heart of our company. All that we have done, and all that we will do, is informed by his values and his spirit," the Bolens wrote in their statement on the de la Renta website. "Through Oscar's example, we know the way forward. We will make Oscar very proud of us by continuing in an even stronger way the work that Oscar loved so much."

Reacting to the designer's death, Hollywood philanthropist Barbara Davis told The Hollywood Reporter: “I feel terrible; everything I wear is from him. He was the sweetest man. He had a flair about him that was more wonderful than any designer I’ve ever know. My daughters wore Oscar; my grandchildren have children’s Oscar, even my mother-in-law wore Oscar. It’s like losing a member of the family.”

De la Renta married Francoise de Langlade, an editor-in-chief of French Vogue, in 1967. She died of bone cancer in 1983. He married socialite Annette Engelhard Reed in 1990.

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Last week, Peter Copping, formerly of the French label Nina Ricci, was appointed as creative director of the Oscar de la Renta company.

“Our industry has not always done the best job when it comes to changes in design leadership,” de la Renta said in a statement announcing the Copping hire. “My hope is that, in leading this selection and actively participating in the transition, I can ensure the right design future for our company and brand.”

Funeral arrangements are still in the works, the statement on de la Renta's website said.

Oct. 21, 7:31 a.m. Updated with the Bolens' statement on the de la Renta website