As with so many, my heart sank upon hearing the news that Oscar de la Renta, the doyen of American fashion, passed away at the age of 82. With verve, wit, candor, style and grace the impeccable gentleman from Santo Domingo made a splash on American soil with his glamorous fashions that become the envy of actresses or socialites from California to New York. Only recently he designed the ivory tulle gown that Amal Alamuddin wore to wed George Clooney in Venice.
While fashion was his world I am far less qualified to remark on this world than the one he inhabited at the close of each day: his homes. I have long admired his breadth of style and taste for homes and interiors that speak to their surroundings, with a keen sensitivity to their place in time. The earliest home I recall of his was his first retreat in the Dominican Republic, which he shared with his then wife Francoise. It characterized the new casual chic that was sweeping the design world, where open-plan rooms – with exposed framing for walls and soaring ceilings – were furnished with simple wicker and bamboo furniture covered with natural canvas, handkerchief linen and batiks.
In New York City Françoise and Oscar expressed their formal side with a taste for opulence. Vincent Fourcade and Robert Denning were called upon in the early 1980’s to craft a regal setting in le goût Rothschild – a densely layered facsimile of a grand European estate with a resplendent mix of fine antiques from the 17th-, 18th- and 19th-centuries, sumptuous textiles and Orientalist treasures, creating an atmosphere of 19th-century eclecticism.
In the early 1990’s, after his marriage to Annette, the de la Renta’s traded Continental opulence for English country house-style in the Manhattan apartment they have shared for over twenty years. To open up a warren of compartmentalized rooms they brought in architect and interior designer Thierry Despont, who created an enfilade of open rooms consisting of a spacious central living area flanked at one end by the library and on the other by the dining room, each end separated by half-height glass-fronted bookcases. Opting for a sunnier disposition their new drawing room was painted in a cheerful glazed yellow, in the spirit of Nancy Lancaster’s drawing room on Avery Street in London.
For their love of homes and gardens the de la Renta’s spent much of their time at their country house, Brook Hill Farm, in Connecticut. Purchased with his late wife, Françoise, in the 1970’s, the de la Renta’s consulted Denning & Fourcade for a continuation of 19th-century-style eclecticism similar to what their New York apartment possessed, reinterpreted for country living. A mix of periods, styles and provenance are layered with floral wall coverings and upholstery, scattered rugs over sisal, and bibelots covering every surface – in the spirit of an English country house.
Following his marriage to Annette the de la Renta’s, with the assistance of several decorators, updated their rooms to reflect their new life together. Similar in style and taste, the living room’s floral quotient was reduced by painting the walls a golden bronze color and mixing in some of Annette’s furnishings from her previous home, producing another version of English country house-style with a nod to Russia.
Perhaps it was in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, where Oscar and his family were the happiest. It was here that he built a Palladian-style villa of local coral stone with expansive loggias and verandas taking in the azure waters just beyond the house. Its interiors merged Annette’s Anglophile tastes with Oscar’s passion for Orientalism, producing a colonial style that is befitting its Latin orientation.
My intention was to continue my dedication to Oscar in the realm of the beautiful homes he fashioned for himself and his family over the years, revisiting one of them each day. Unfortunately, it will have to wait as I am about to embark on a week-along break from work and blogging. I will, upon my return, proceed with this plan, though I hope it doesn’t come across as late and irrelevant in the scheme of special interest news. For how can there be a right or wrong time to praise the legendary talent that was Oscar de la Renta. See you back here in a week!