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University of Houston-Clear Lake
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One of the ultimate bucket-list experiences of any self-respecting fashionista’s lifetime is waiting at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). Opened Oct. 8, this fanciful exhibit features nearly 70 iconic looks from one of fashion’s greatest designers, the late Oscar de la Renta.
The first ever monographic show, an exhibit dedicated to a single designer, has proven to be very popular, said Marissa Hershon, curatorial assistant at MFAH.
Oscar de la Renta’s body of work and artistic influences are showcased by pieces ranging from a minimalist yet fiercely-chic black wool crepe suit on loan from Houston socialite Lynn Wyatt to the very last wedding gown he created before his death, an exquisite lace creation worn by Amal Alamuddin when she wed George Clooney. Art and other decorative pieces from the MFAH’s permanent collection compliment the various looks.
Former Editor-at-Large for Vogue and fashion expert Andre Leon Talley curated the exhibit and organized the grouping and the thematic organization.
Several major themes and signature style elements reoccur throughout the decades of de la Renta’s life. The exhibit is displayed in four distinct sections: Spanish influence, Asian influence, French garden influence, and finally a room filled with recognizable red carpet glamour that is uniquely American.
“Andre Leon Talley intimately knew Oscar de la Renta as a good friend for many decades…he was the most familiar with the meaning and the importance of the designs,” Hershon said. “It was very interesting to see him at work; he was very excited about selecting and arranging the decorative art pieces with the looks. We provided him with the options, but he ultimately made the decisions.”
Oscar de la Renta was born in the Dominican Republic in 1932. In 1951, he traveled to Madrid to study the paintings of the Spanish masters. He was hired by the legendary Christobal Balenciaga to sketch couture designs for clients, thus beginning his career in fashion. Like Balenciaga, de la Renta was heavily influenced by the imagery in Spanish art, culture, and this is evident in the heavily saturated colors and embellishments in the first section of the exhibit. One dress, a red masterpiece of ruffles, was worn by Beyonce in a photoshoot for Vogue magazine.
In the next section of the exhibit, de la Renta’s Asian influence is displayed in various designs with Japanese, Indian and Russian design details. Striped blouses, jewel tones, elaborate embroidery and hand-painted silk caftans evoke the luxury and diversity of Asian culture against a backdrop of priceless 17th century furniture.
In the largest and most dramatic display, de la Renta’s fanciful French side and his devotion to gardening and the outdoors is juxtaposed with a mixed-media installation of a manicured French garden. A slim mannequin poses by a garden bench, dressed in a hand-painted floral evening gown. This particular gown was painted to mirror the actual wallpaper in Marie Antoinette’s private suite at Versailles. Other ensembles are fanciful and frothy pink creations, but the highlight of this section of the exhibit is undoubtedly the featured bridal couture on display. The famous “Amal Clooney” gown stands next to a simple white lace dress designed by de la Renta for his step-daughter Eliza Bolen.
And finally, in the last room, the money shots — those gowns worn by first ladies, and the ones seen on the red carpet, showcased against navy walls and lit brilliantly so that every sequin and sparkle is on display. One navy and silver dress spins slowly on a pedestal in the center of the room, practically demanding that all smartphones be set to video time-lapse mode.
“The ball gown that was most breathtaking for me was the navy tulle gown with silver detail beading, which sparkled as the light hit the gown,” said fashionista Marjorie Kovacevich.
This show-stopping dress, and its unique display was specifically selected by Talley and inspired the overall colors and style of the final room, Hershon said.
MFAH provides a high-tech and enjoyable experience, with widely-spaced exhibits and personal audio devices handed out to guests. Museum attendants vigilantly staff each room, so the chances of actually making it onto the spinning platform and into the magical, sparkly navy dress are very slim. However, there are plenty of opportunities in the exhibit gift shop as well as the main MFAH gift shop to purchase a little piece of Oscar to take home.
The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta exhibit is on display through Jan. 28 in the Audrey Jones Beck Building at 5601 Main Street in Houston. For more information, visit www.mfah.org.