Remembering Oscar de la Renta and his fragrance world

Remembering Oscar de la Renta and his fragrance world

By Adriana Ermter

In the 1980s, like every other girl, I prescribed to perfume’s golden rule: I spritzed with a very heavy hand. But contrary to what my friends were layering on — Giorgio Beverly Hills Giorgio, Dior Poison and Calvin Klein Eternity — my eau of choice was Oscar de la Renta Ruffles. It was delicate with musky, woody undertones and a pretty, floral heart. And maybe, just maybe, I wore it because my older sister favoured Oscar de la Renta’s Oscar and I wanted to be like her, but different.

Since then, a bevvy of the Dominican designer’s fragrances have held a permanent spot on my vanity and on my wrists, including: Volupté’s spicy, green bouquet; So de la Renta’s blend of fresh-cut flowers with juicy, exotic fruits; and Granada’s sweet, garden-fresh blooms. And while each bottle has been unique to me; each eliciting feelings of confidence, love and hope; all bear Oscar’s fragrant and floral signature — refined femininity at its best.

“Mr. de la Renta truly understood women. He knew how to make every woman feel feminine, elegant and beautiful,” says Anne Tillman-Graham, vice-president, commercial director for Quadrant Cosmetics Corp in Canada. “Regardless of the trends, he never lost sight of that.”

The only boy in a family with six sisters, it’s safe to say Oscar grew up with an innate understanding of and an appreciation for women. It’s fitting then that he was drawn to the glamorous world of fashion.

De la Renta’s journey into design began when he was 18 years old, when he left his hometown of Santo Domingo in 1950 to pursue his dream of becoming an abstract painter at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. A talented illustrator, he was quickly discovered by Cristobal Balenciaga and was ushered into the Spanish couture house as an apprentice. Later, while vacationing in Paris, Lanvin-Castillo scooped him up as its in-house designer, and within two years, he moved to New York City to join the Elizabeth Arden team. In 1965, he debuted his eponymous, ready-to-wear label, and by 1977, he launched his first fragrance, Oscar.

The gowns of de la Renta, a brand that is now considered fashion royalty, are a staple on red carpets around the world and coveted by celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Cameron Diaz, Taylor Swift, Amy Adams and Anne Hatheway. Top models Karlie Kloss, Daria Strokous and Alana Zimmer are also among the glamorous A-list beauties who present his seasonal runway collections to front-row loyalists ranging from the likes of Barbara Walters to Jennifer Lopez. And when interviewed backstage about his goals and inspirations, the designer’s answer was always the same: He wanted to make “women feel simply beautiful.” Perhaps that’s why, at least in part, Oscar de la Renta is now a household name.

Each month, millions of readers devour Oscar de la Renta-related news and gossip on the pages of WHarper’s Bazaar and, of course, Vogue — the latter magazine’s legendary editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and contributing editor André Leon Talley are considered longtime, personal friends of the designer. And who can forget the enviable scene in the 2008 hit, Sex and The City: The Movie when, to the backbeats of Ciara’s “Click Flash,” Carrie is photographed for the fashion bible in the designer’s embroidered silk, mermaid wedding dress?

Onscreen and off, Oscar de la Renta had the golden touch — fashion and fragrance included. In 2012, Oscar’s 38th fragrance, Live in Love, was rumoured to have surpassed $15-million in its first year of sales.

“He was the first of the 20th Century designers to celebrate women and fashion through fragrance,” says Tillman-Graham “He believed that fragrance was one of the most important accessories.”

He was right. In 1978, de la Renta’s signature, namesake scent won the prestigious FIFI award — the fragrance industry’s highest honour. It continues to be a classic. And it holds a special place in my heart, too. Several years ago, when Ruffles became a cherished memory, I purchased a bottle of Oscar — one for me and one for my sister. Its tall, ribbon-shaped flacon sits in a place of prominence on my vanity. I look at it every morning. Its lush and joyous floral eau is a wonderful reminder of the man who introduced me to the elegant and fashionable world of beauty. Mr. de la Renta died on October 20, 2014. For me, his indelible mark — his fragrance — lives on.

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Adriana Ermter is an award-winning writer and editor. The former beauty director for FASHION magazine and editor-in-chief of Salon and of Childview magazines is a monthly columnist for Among Men Mag and has hosted beauty videos for and contributed to Men’s FASHION, Chatelaine and, Flare and, Huffington Post Canada, National Post, and She lives in Toronto with her very spoiled feline, Trixie-Belle, and a fantastically large perfume collection.