South Park Magazine

A chat with Oscar

Oscar de la Renta and Chandra Johnson.
Oscar de la Renta and Chandra Johnson.

When legendary designer Oscar de la Renta was in town for “The Art of Style” gala fundraiser hosted by the Mint Museum Auxiliary, I was thrilled to have a chance to talk with him one-on-one during an event at Belk in honor of his new perfume, Esprit d’Oscar.It was a surreal experience to see the legend stroll in looking fit and tan with his stepdaughter Eliza Bolen, a business-savvy style maker whom I’ve admired for years (she was the inspiration behind his new perfume) and her husband Alex, CEO of de la Renta’s company. The stylish trio could not have been more charming.When it was my turn to chat with “Mister” (as his staff affectionately refers to him), he filled me in on some of the thought processes that have helped keep him on top of the fickle fashion industry for decades.When I asked him what makes a woman elegant, he told me that elegance is how you live, not just how you dress. “To be dedicated to living elegantly takes a lot of discipline,” was his verdict. “It’s about understanding yourself and being very visual and dedicated to surrounding yourself with beauty.”As far as his secret to not only remaining relevant, but setting the standard for others in his field: “I’m very competitive, and I constantly challenge myself.” And although he had thoroughly enjoyed the gala that included an exhibit of vintage and current gowns of his design on loan from the private collections of Charlotte women, he says not looking back is key. “When I see a dress that I designed, I don’t know if I did it 20 years ago or two years ago – I’m always moving forward and thinking about the future.”It seems the future of his company is in good, familiar hands, especially when I found out that Eliza and Alex’s elementary school-aged son played a part in designing a dress for his grandfather’s collection last year. De la Renta was discussing his idea of using a Monet-like print for one of his gowns when his grandson spoke up and said that he was studying Monet in school and done a painting of his own. De la Renta loved it so much, he sent it off to his fabric maker in Italy who replicated the design. Joked Alex: “Now he’s asking about his commission.”

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