The first full day of the Design Leadership Summit (DLS) transitioned from a morning of technology to an afternoon focused on fashion, art and culture with presentations from Oscar de la Renta, Andy Spade, Glenn O’Brien, Richard Phillips and Tyler Florence.
Newly appointed editor-in-chief of Veranda magazine Clinton Smith introduced interior design icon Bunny Williams and fashion icon Oscar de la Renta.
Oscar de la Renta and Bunny Williams
Williams described de la Renta as her own great friend, but also as a person with more great friends than anyone she knows. She asked him to explain how he got started in the business.
With five older sisters, he had a deep appreciation for women, but it wasn’t until he left home to study in Spain that he became interested in fashion design. He secured an apprenticeship with Spain's renowned couturier, Cristóbal Balenciaga, whom he considers his mentor. In 1965 went to work for Jane Derby in New York with the intention of making a name for himself. He insisted his name be placed on the label with Derby’s, only larger, for the pieces he designed. When Derby died in August 1965 de la Renta took over the label.
He explained that he entered the fashion industry during a time when haute couture was shifting to ready-to-wear. “It was a time when creators came into their own in New York,” he said.
He was indeed making a name for himself in New York City, but becoming nationally recognized was another story. “I thought I was famous until I realized that once you cross the Hudson River, it’s another country. I knew I had to project my image further,” he said.
Throughout the years, de la Renta has held the same mission, which is: “When a woman sees my dress, I want her to know that I understand her and that I love her,” he said.
“What is the biggest challenge you face today?” asked Williams.
“Editing my work is my most difficult time. So much goes into each design, it’s hard to let it go. The dress everyone hates is the one I want to show…I feel sorry for the dress.”
Williams and de la Renta agreed that fashion is very different from interiors. De la Renta explained that while fashion designers have to present something that is a reflection of the consumer, interior designers must have the most intimate understanding of people’s lives.
“You can’t design a home to be ‘trendy,’ like you do in fashion,” said de le Renta. “A person needs to live there for a very long time.”
When Williams asked what inspires him, he responded “I just keep my eyes open. I understand who my consumer is,” he continued. “And, my curiosity and love of life keeps me going on a daily basis. For me, going to work is like going into a candy shop.”
“The key to staying creative is intense panic,” he said. “If there is no doubt about what you’re doing, then the creativity isn’t there. Even where I am today, everyday is a learning process. Someone 50 years younger than me can teach me something. The day I know everything is the day I stop working.”
Williams asked de la Renta for a few pieces of advice for those wanting to start their own businesses. Some of the key takeaways included:
- It’s important to train with people who are the best of the best first. There is a sense of urgency to create your own brand and to do it right now, but there should be no rush.
- Believe in yourself.
- Making it doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a lot of hard work and being in the right place at the right time, so put yourself out there.
- Competition is extremely important.
- Fame and success only comes when a consumer believes in what you are doing. Be careful with fame and don’t underestimate it.
Check back for more coverage of the DLS coming each day this week. Related articles: DLS Recap: Sir Norman Foster and Paul Goldberger, DLS Recap II: Innovations in technology and design
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